How did Singapore fix its problem with trash? – Semakau landfill

South of the main Singapore island resides Pulau Semakau, an island known for barramundi fish farming, rich in marine and terrestrial flora and fauna. You can enjoy a walk on the beach and casually see corals, crabs and various other citizens of shallow waters. Everything is clean and full of life. Seems almost uncanny that Singapore’s first offshore, and now only landfill is located on the eastern side of the island, covering 3.5 square kilometers.

When someone says landfill, usually these are the images that pop into mind:

Landfill in Nigeria by Ayotunde Oguntoyinbo

A landfill in Poland, source: Wiki

Semakau landfill is totally different.

Land scarcity put Singapore in a situation where they had to think of creative solutions for their waste disposal problem. After months of careful planning, they made a strategy with a group of cunning engineers. Namely, they have decided to merge two offshore islands, Pulau Semakau and Pulau Sakeng, to form a bund which encompasses a few hundred hectares of sea. And this was no easy solution – it was expensive and required unconventional engineering (it’s really hard to make a stationary landfill in the middle of the sea). The project has two development phases – first one started in 1999 and ended two years ago, and phase two is ongoing, predicted to be finished by 2045.

The bund is separated in cells and filled with ash, made by treated organic waste from four WTE incineration plants. It is lined with a layer of marine clay and waterproof membrane, to ensure that the content doesn’t leak into the nearby sea. When the cell gets full, it’s topped with soil to support the growth of vegetation, thus making a safe space for migratory birds. There’s even a fishing farm in the vicinity of the landfill, which produces 100% clean, quality fish.

Instead of endless mounds of waste, mangroves are growing, and we all know that where mangroves flourish, marine creatures that live in their mudflats have it pretty nice too. Rare and not so rare species of birds can be seen, even some tourists!
Semakau landfill stands as a monument of engineering and human effort to coexist with the environment. Maybe it’s a small step in managing waste globally, but it’s a big step for environmental awareness and actions, as it shows how we can beneficially adapt.

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