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My country's Overshoot day

Updated: Apr 11, 2021

"Earth's overshoot day marks the day when humanity’s demand for ecological resources and services in a given year exceeds what Earth can regenerate in that year. In 2020, it fell on August 22. A country’s overshoot day is the date on which Earth Overshoot Day would fall if all of humanity consumed like the people in this country."

To learn more about how the date is calculated or to support the Global Footprint Network please visit Singapore's overshoot day is falling on 10 April 2021, twelve days earlier than Earth Day 22 April 2021. "The blue bins are always overflowing"

Singapore is a tiny island without much resource and almost everything has to be imported. With greater affluence, we import more varieties of goods and services from greater distances and with greater carbon footprint, flying some into the island for that just-in-time logistics (land for storage is expensive!) or in pursuit of that delectable freshness. With these goods, we import their consequence too - trash. Many households in Singapore clears rubbish almost every day. Wastes in Singapore aren't as readily evident as in other countries (e.g. the trash pile ups in Naples, Italy) due to our efficient removal by cheap migrant workers who are cleaning the streets and beach in the wee hours of the morning or late at night. Down the chute; in the blue bin; incinerated

to generate electricity; buried offshore in a man-made landfills between islands.

Sometimes trashing even takes on a charitable spin - donate them to local small businesses; to childcare for sensory play or old folks home.

Our trash is thus conveniently: out of sight, out of mind. Singapore's reporting of waste makes tracking of industrial vs municipal waste difficult. [1] Without the clear trend, it is difficult to convince more consumers to embrace a sustainable consumption habit to reduce waste. Still widespread, are the ideas that reusables waste more water than disposables and hence the deep rooted nonchalance about using disposables. Recycling requires probably more water to wash as contaminated materials are rejected for recycling [2]. The recycling process generates again waste water.

More green 'sustainable' consumption? Sustainability is really the only driver for this zero-waste movement because we are consuming a life of convenience into a world of great inconvenience and sadly misery to come as we are faced with more pollution and severe weather patterns at increased frequencies. Zero-waste movement should not be driven solely by objective to save more money though spending less is often a pleasant outcome of zero-waste lifestyle. The sustainability / green movement are not impervious to opportunists who try to jump on the green wagon to sell more with misguided idea that the same intensity of consumption but of sustainable/renewable goods are helping our environment. Sustainable products are often marketed as compostable and renewable and reusable unlike say fossil fuels. The problem however is not about whether the material can be composted or renewable, reusable or even recyclable. The problem is the rate of our consumption exceeding the rate of replacement of resources even when intervened with human-aided process of recycling. Many of us have a bursting collection of glass jars, reusable bags and containers and they never seem to slow down! The problem is also, how many of these xxx-ables are actually enabled or enacted. Two very obvious cases in point are Water and Food. 1. Water Water is a very renewable resource. We learn about the water cycle in primary schools. Even Grandma Mottainai explains the water cycle in the Youtube animation here in English! Watch it with your kids!

Mottainai Grandma goes to the river

Water usage by Singapore's population density is never going to be sustainable. Why? Even when Singapore's population was less than 3 million in the early years of nation-hood (we are now nearly 6 million) life-critical water has already been a scarce resource due to the limited holding and processing capacity of safe potable water. Fortunately, Malaysia with its large expanse of land and lower density of population has enough water catchment to provide us with enough piped water to process and use without having to sacrifice swathes of land (be it undergound or in tall surface tanks) to store for uninterrupted water supply. Yet, we still need more water. Singapore turned to sewerage water. Nature takes days or years processing water laden with plant materials, animal excrements (in our terms, waste water) Nature breaks down the materials in stages by the versatile microbes from the guts of animals to the soils and in the water ways; evaporation and rain/snow. The soil and plants filter out 'wastes' as nutrients made bioavailable. But it is a delicate balance. The dose is what makes the poison. This is why Singapore phased out pig farming mainly due to the pollution from high density farming. [3]

Nature does not have unlimited capacity to process 'waste' at speed. Waste water cycling by Nature is free and carbon neutral or even negative in emission, but it cannot support waste water generated from high density of population of animals and humans. High density farming is not only cruel, it is unsustainable environmentally. Singapore accelerates this waste water cleanup through pumps, polymeric filters, ion exchange columns, UV, etc. But this NEWater process is expensive and with its carbon footprint in energy consumption and the chemicals and filter consumables generated.

The waste that comes out from such processes in concentrated, possibly toxic in hazards classification and further reduced by incineration before it gets towed by barges to Semakau island then gets locked up, contributing to the hastening depletion of the precious landfill space.

The island landfill has an estimated capacity till 2035 to hold the incinerator bottom ash.

Water is renewable and sustainable only if the rate of waste water generation is matched by Nature's regeneration capacity. This capacity is reduced as soil is replaced by cement and bitumen; forests replaced by cities and monoculture farms. 2. Food

Food, still largely natural and compostable and renewable, is an un-negotiable need for all living beings. But the food becomes unsustainable from the way it is produced (to maximise profit) and how it is wasted, for convenience. How is food unsustainable?

Majority of food is still grown unsustainably by the conventional method using increasing amount of toxic pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers that kill biodiversity [3] critical to maintain soil health and the whole complex ecology. The inputs to agriculture requires energy (fertilizers, fungi-/herbi-/pesti-/insecti-cides made from fossil fuels derived chemicals), the output pollutes the soil and water. With globalisation, regions take on the burden of food production for the world (again, intense agriculture and waste generation). Water that was previously renewable and sustainable for the agriculture becomes scarce and the water in the form of crops are transported out of the region at a speed that the climate is not able to replace via precipitation (rain and snow) to replenish the aquifers. This often leads to desertification [4] , displacement of communities and exacerbates the inability for rain to precipitate back in the region. Organic and sustainable permaculture exists [5] that does not need to use chemicals but because they are labour intensive and there's a high demand for safer food and more 'conscience' food, the price is typically high. In Singapore, organic sustainable food takes on even greater cost due to the middle-men and logistics.

These create much resistance against support of organic food production among the wider population who are convinced that organic and sustainable food as a hippie fad and only a marketing scam.

Some population of hobbyist urban farmers are still convinced of the need to buy potent chemical fertilizers and XXX-cides for their plants though fortunately they seem to be a shrinking percentage. To achieve economies of scale to eke out a break-even point or profit out of a fluctuating thin margin of profit (watch Rotten [6] the documentary series for detailed account of the injustice in food production), farmers resort to unsustainable mono-culture to produce MORE on the cost of fixed assets of machineries required for economically agreeable productivity. With the huge amount produced, the crops need to be moved quickly and cheaply so as to enable the farmers and workers to make a living. Traders with their oligopoly of purchasing and distribution, secure more profit on their side of their bargains compared to the farmers who are often helpless as self-sustenance off their land is sometimes not an option to them

Further and further down the chain of supply, entities need to move food faster to pass on the risk of spoilage and the MOQ (minimum order quantity) coupled with price penalty for buying less (or one can argue, the rewards for buying more of what you do not have ready demand). With increased stock, businesses advertise and promote consuming more. The vicious cycle continues. Food that are spoiled/expired due to the overproduction cannot be composted at a rate to match the generation of waste since Singapore does not have significant landed agriculture to recover the nutrients of food waste instead of incineration/biogas that emits more CO2. The CO2 is facing reduced buffering capacity from oceans and disappearing forests. Thank you for reading to the end. Sustainability and a liveable environment for the future generations need all of us to do our part in reducing consumption. We have to realise that without the reduction of avoidable wastes, no amount of recycling, composting, renewable green energy, will be able to provide the future with the climate stability that we had to progress our civilisation. "Our planet becomes four degrees Celsius warmer. Large parts of the earth are uninhabitable. Millions of people rendered homeless. A sixth mass extinction event…is well underway. This is a series of one-way doors…bringing irreversible change. Within the span of the next lifetime, the security and stability of the Holocene, our Garden of Eden…will be lost."

Sir David Attenborough, A Life on Our Planet [1] "No, S'pore does not produce 1,400kg of solid waste per capita"

[2] [3] Commercial pig farming phased out in 1989, the original title of the article "Commercial pig farming in Punggol is announced" on HistorySG is misleading.

[4] Nigel Dudley & Sasha Alexander(2017)Agriculture and biodiversity: a review, Biodiversity, 18:2-3,45-49,DOI: 10.1080/14888386.2017.1351892 [5]


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