Monthly Archives

May 2019

Sustainable Living

How To Manage E-Waste As A Consumer

Have you ever mulled over what to do with that old mobile phone you discovered when cleaning your room? Well, it definitely isn’t something that belongs in the trash bin or any regular recycling bins. This new category of “trash” can be called e-waste. E-waste is typically any electrical and electronic equipment that has been discarded. These range from large items like washing machines, televisions, refrigerators, to smaller ones like mobile phones and computers.

Although many of us are unaware, just in Singapore, we generate about 60,000 tonnes of e-waste annually. What is even more shocking is that about half of this is generated by household consumers like you and me! In a year, that is almost equivalent to each person throwing away 73 mobile phones. With the advancements of technology and our fast-paced environment, these figures are expected to keep increasing if we do not change the way we manage our e-waste.

Why do we need to manage e-waste?

The impacts of not getting rid of the growing amount of e-waste we produce are extremely severe. E-waste contains substantial hazardous substances and heavy metals, like lead and mercury.

These are potentially harmful to our environment and health. For instance, if these toxic materials seep into groundwater when they are disposed of in landfills, it could contaminate water sources.

In Singapore, about 50% of our e-waste is either thrown away or end up with scrap traders and rag-and-bone men. As these individuals often lack the expertise to fully recycle such e-waste, there is a high chance that chemical compounds may be discharged as a result of handling this e-waste poorly. To worsen the situation, incinerated e-waste contributes to the carbon emissions and contaminate ash at the Semakau landfill.  Therefore, it is important for us consumers to recycle our e-waste properly at reputable e-waste recycling points as it ensures that harmful substances are not released into the environment.

How then should we deal with e-waste?

As an individual consumer of e-waste, we should look out for the numerous e-waste recycling programs offered in Singapore. Singapore is currently working with various organizations to improve the accessibility for individuals like us to recycle our e-waste. All we have to do is simply drop off our e-waste at these recycling points and the organizations will handle the rest.

Some examples are:

  1. City Square Mall E-waste Recycling Programme
  2. Dell Recycling Programme
  3. E-waste Recycling @ North East
  4. StarHub’s RENEW (REcycling Nation’s Electronic Waste) Programme
  5. Singtel x SingPost E-Waste Recycling Programme
  6. M1 E-waste Drop-Off Point Programme

Although Singapore is currently working towards developing our e-waste recycling landscape, we should know that recycling is not the only way to deal with our e-waste. Ultimately, we should always adopt the zero waste hierarchy when dealing with any type of waste. Similarly, for e-waste, practising the 5Rs – Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Rot – we can be more sustainable in our consumptions. So the next time you think about buying a new phone or laptop, think again!

How to rethink your electronic purchases?

Go through these steps to help yourself evaluate if your purchase is necessary:

1. Refuse

The first step you should take is to think wisely about your consumption you are about to make.  Are they wants or needs? If they are mere wants, learn to say “No” to yourself! There are always other alternatives around.

2. Reduce

Once you have taken the first step of saying “No” to your wants, this can help you reduce your consumption of electronic products. In this case, cutting down your purchases of electronic products would reduce your dollar vote towards organizations continuously dishing out new products.

3. Reuse

Nonetheless, if you have evaluated that your purchase is a necessary one, there are always second-hand options available to consider. Just ask around. You never know if one of your pals has a spare phone that they are willing to sell to you! In the case where your electronic items are faulty or damaged, you can always try to get them repaired. This may be a cheaper option than purchasing a new item!

4. Recycle

At the end of the day, when we have exhausted all our options to salvage our electronics, we should be mindful of how we dispose of them. Instead of tossing them in the trash, remember to recycle them at the appropriate recycling points. Singapore has made these outlets easily available to everyone by listing them out. There are various organizations that take part in this e-waste recycling program to cater to the different types of e-waste produced. Do check them out here!

5. Rot

Unfortunately, e-waste is not compostable and discarding them inappropriately, it could be detrimental to us and the environment. So, we have to take extra effort in practising the above 4Rs.

 

E-waste is definitely a new type of waste that we have to learn more about and manage better given its prevalence in the world today. You can start today and do your part to boost the e-waste recycling rates!

Sustainable Living

Let’s talk about Palm Oil

My interest in palm oil and its effects on the environment started when I went vegan in 2014 (I am not vegan anymore but that’s a post for another day). My interest peaked in 2016 when I went on an overseas conservation trip to Sumatra, in which we helped to plant fruit trees where palm oil used to grow and educate locals on the detrimental effects of palm oil on both the environment and on the wildlife (Specifically the Sumatran Orang Utans).

Do you know that palm oil or palm kernel oil is estimated to be in half of all packaged products in supermarkets? Similar to soybean and corn oil, palm oil is processed into a large number of foods and consumer products and is often a key ingredient in many foods and household items. In addition, the move towards biodiesel has also increased the demand for palm oil.

 

 Why is palm oil extensively used in our everyday lives?

According to the Malaysian Palm Oil Board, palm oil has a balanced fatty acid composition in which the level of saturated fatty acids is almost equal to that of the unsaturated fatty acids. Palmitic acid (44%-45%) and oleic acid (39%-40%) are the major component acids, with linoleic acid (10%-11%) and only a trace amount of linolenic acid. The low level of linoleic acid and the virtual absence of linolenic acid make the oil relatively stable to oxidative deterioration.

 It also has a high smoke point of 245 degrees Celcius. In cooking, the smoke point of an oil or fat is the temperature at which, under defined conditions, enough volatile compounds emerge from the oil that a bluish smoke becomes clearly visible. At this temperature, volatile compounds, such as water, free fatty acids, and short-chain degradation products of oxidation come up from the oil.

Basically, in layman’s term, palm oil does not cause food to spoil easily and is ideal for frying and cooking food without having any toxic compounds leaching into the food.

Hence, given an explanation as to why it is often preferred over other sources of oil.

Now, we have to ask ourselves- what are the environmental effects of palm oil? Why is sustainable palm oil so important? Answering these questions will help us understand the need to raise awareness on the prevalence of palm oil, the effects it has and steps we can take to move away from unsustainable palm oil.

 

Ruined land

Every hour, 300 football fields of precious remaining forest is being ploughed to the ground across South East Asia to make way for palm oil plantations. It is no doubt that palm oil is destructive to the lungs of the earth – our rainforests.

In Africa, Asia, Latin America and Oceania, millions of acres of land are cleared to plant palm oil. In fact, our neighbours Malaysia and Indonesia produce 80% of the world’s palm oil and the primary technique used to clear forests is through the method of slash and burn. This means that acres of what was once trees are logged and set into flames. This causes not just air pollution, but also the loss of habitat for the animals once living in the forests. The large use of herbicides and fertilizers in the growth of palm oil trees means that plants in that forests become monoculture plantations and lose all native flora and fauna. This not only drives known species of native plants to extinction, but we also lose all ability to fully study the native environment and flora and fauna of the rainforest that has been cleared.

 

Human-Wildlife Conflict

In the last 20 years, over 3.5 million hectares of Indonesian and Malaysian forest have been destroyed to make way for palm oil (critically endangered and this is largely due to the planting of palm oil, with the highest record of 6,000 lives lost in a year. If you have yet watched the heartbreaking video of an orangutan trying to defend its home, check it out here.

This devastating impact also affects other unrecorded animals living in these rainforests. Imagine your home being burned away and replaced with palm oil trees. You lose not just your home, but also your source of food. Many animals eventually die from starvation, if not from asphyxiation (suffocation from smoke) during the forest fires.

 

Sustainable Palm Oil

So, what is sustainable palm oil? According to PM Haze, sustainable palm oil companies use zero-burning methods to clear land, respect land rights and work with local communities to minimise the use of fire, protect forests and plant on existing open land. Truth be told, it is very difficult to measure whether it is sustainable as you cannot tell after it has been refined (if it has been mixed or not). Even companies that sell sustainable palm oil admit that they cannot assure that the oil is purely sustainable. However, it is still optimal to go for sustainable palm oil.

 

What can we do?  

In Singapore, Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPOcertified palm oil is currently the closest option we have for haze-free palm oil. Hence, vegetable oil that only uses sustainable palm oil will be ‘RSPO-certified.’

We are currently still slowly progressing towards a palm-oil free world. And as we do this, we can try our best to switch to oils like pure coconut or olive oil for cooking (please note that olive oil burns easily and is unsuitable for cooking at high heat). We can first check the ingredients of the products we buy – especially our soaps and beauty products and avoid those with palm oil. While avoiding palm oil in food is difficult, it is easier to switch to palm-oil free beauty products. Look for products with other oil bases (coconut or jojoba) or simply ensure that sustainable palm oil is used. Often, products with sustainable palm oil will clearly indicate that the palm oil used is sustainable.

 

While complete avoidance is virtually impossible in a palm-oil intoxicated world, it is important to know about the palm oil problem and slowly try to reduce our use of palm oil products. By voting with our dollar, we are telling suppliers we do not want palm oil, or that we only want sustainable palm oil. This indeed will slowly drive the economic change needed to alleviate the problems that palm oil brings upon society.

Others

Yes, We Want You To Panic

Imagine holding something you love the most. Just that, this item is now slowly burning in front of your eyes and being destroyed bit by bit. What do you do? Watch it burn or put out the fire? This is not a false alarm. This is a reality as highlighted by Greta Thunberg on what exactly is happening to the Earth – our one and only home.

You might be thinking: “Not again, another article to remind us of climate change.”

But yes, as with all the thousands of articles being shared about the drastic impact of climate change, we are compelled to do the same. We simply want to let you know that there is no time to waste. The longer we wait, the shorter the time we have to salvage the situation.

If you are not convinced about the occurrence of climate change, here are some figures for you to reflect and to crunch on:

The list goes on and on. Just do a simple google search and you will find many other statistics and data about the damaged we have done to our natural habitat.

Most of us have this conception that because Singapore is in a safe location, free from natural disasters, we might be in the sweet lucky spot.

Unfortunately, the effects of climate change on Singapore is more evident than we thought. Try to recall when was the last time your family or friends complained that it was hot. Probably, just several hours ago. In recent years, days when maximum temperatures exceed 34 deg C and nights when minimum temperatures exceed 26 deg C have been more frequent. 

The last and most severe climate impact Singapore faces in the next 50 years and beyond is sea level rise. This is caused by thermal expansion of seawater volume and from melting land ice. The average sea level around Singapore’s coasts has risen steadily at a rate of between 1.2mm and 1.7mm per year and is projected to increase to about 1m by 2100.

Do not ignore the tell-tale signs.

Maybe it is slightly too much to take in for you. Maybe you feel powerless in the grand scheme of things. Maybe you feel like giving up because of the negativity revolving climate change.

But, have faith.

Have faith that when we come together as a whole, we are able to make a change. Have faith that there are still millions of people out there who care for the earth and is doing their best to conserve it. Have faith that the new age of changemakers will drive the remedy and slow down our harmful effects on earth.

With that faith, transform it into actions. As we continue to live on the earth, we still have the time and chance to care and make a difference. All you need to do is take a step and do SOMETHING. Every step however big or small contributes in their own way that you might not be able to see now, but will definitely help in the future. As Anne Marie Bonneau said “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”

Given that this is such an urgent situation, you should not even be hesitating on whether your action will make an impact but instead, you should consider how big of an impact can your action contribute to the earth.

How to start? Here are our suggestions:

  1. Reflect and re-evaluate on your current lifestyle habits
  2. Identify which areas you can make changes to lead a more sustainable lifestyle
  3. Make a commitment to make those changes
  4. Come out with a plan or schedule on the changes you wish to make
  5. Ensure you stick to this commitment and document down the change
  6. Take the next step, do more and go further

So yes, we want you to panic. We want you to wake up from this dream that everything is going to be okay. We want you to make a change. We want you to take action. We want you to realise that you need to make a change NOW.