by Zakiah Zakariah
August 25th, 2016

“Every piece of food you don’t finish will turn into a blemish on your future spouse’s face,” warns an old Chinese superstition. Now, imagine what that spouse would look like if you wasted two bowls of food a day.

The image is undoubtedly frightful. But perhaps the scariest thing is that Singaporeans, did, in fact, waste an average of two bowls of food a day in 2015. They also generated a high of 8,402 tonnes of solid waste last year, almost seven times more than the amount produced just forty years ago.

The ugly truth behind wastefulness

If the tiny city-state is already churning out so much waste, imagine how much rubbish is produced on an international scale. The refuse from cities can already fill a 5,000 kilometer line of dump trucks every day, and global waste is projected to triple from today to exceed 11 million tonnes in the next 90 years. All this is happening against the backdrop of an ever-burgeoning global population.

In the meantime, existing waste management solutions are becoming unsustainable, with landfills running out of space and volumes of oceanic trash due to outpopulate fish by 2050. Plastics in the ocean eventually break down (after hundreds of years) into cancerous compounds that re-enter our food chain. “Out of sight, out of mind” is no reality. It is high time to rethink our wasteful habits because they will come back to bite us.

What’s being done regionally?

In the Asia Pacific region, this chilling news has driven a culture of innovation to discover new ways of dealing with trash. Some interesting inventions include edible spoons and paper made from stone. Using these products leaves little to no impact on the environment, as they are biodegradable (and even consumable). Unlike typical spoons and paper, they do not accumulate dangerously in landfills and water bodies, or leak harmful substances into the earth.

Other solutions involve turning trash into “treasure” by recycling existing waste into usable products. Newly-invented appliances make fresh toilet paper out of old office papers, and there are even plants dedicated to transforming food waste and sewage into fertiliser and building materials.

To deal with litter in the open sea, ocean-cleaning rubbish bin technologies are also being designed to suck up floating trash, almost like a filter for a giant pool.

This culture of eco-innovation is not foreign to Singapore, where locals are working together to deal with trash sustainably. Earlier this year, NUS researchers pioneered a way to turn paper waste into a new material for oil spill cleaning and heat insulation. Pilots for food waste recycling systems have also been carried out, with machines developed and installed at select hawker centers to convert food waste into water. Additionally, new apps match food companies with leftovers to charities that need it.

While there is still a long way to go for a future with zero waste, it is comforting to note that there are promising new solutions being developed to lighten our environmental strain. As consumers, we can help practise the three Rs – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Though our efforts may seem small, when it comes to protecting the face of the earth from being “blemished” by trash, every deed counts.

 

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