A closer look at home: Pulau Semakau, a beautiful garbage island

A chance came up recently to visit a restricted island and we at Tripeon jumped at the chance to explore Pulau Semakau, or as most Singaporeans lovingly know, the island where we dump our rubbish. This is the place, where your garbage bags of leftover food bits, construction debris, baby diapers, plastics finally end up, post incineration.

Let’s start with a little history and geography. The Semakau landfill, located 8km on the south of mainland Singapore, is formed through the amalgamation of its smaller neighbouring Pulau Sakeng. Pulau Semakau was once home to a fishing village. With the island being purchased in 1987, the islanders were relocated to the mainland and its last islander moved out in 1991. Envisioned and created by the Singapore Government as our first offshore landfill with a budget of $610 million, it covers an area of ~350 hectares with a landfill capacity of 63million m3, split over 11 wet cells and 5 dry cells. A 7km perimeter rock bund (which also served partly as the road) was built to enclose part of the sea.

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Stepping on this island after a 30mins ferry ride, the misconception of the island being a smelly blazing inferno of rubbish was quickly dismissed. Much thought has been put into the planning of the island. In fact, with the array of recreational activities, flora and fauna (more on this later), one can easily mistake the inner island to be yet another of our mini urban getaways.

So.. what happens on Semakau? Singapore currently has 4 mainland incineration plants burning our rubbish into ash. On a daily basis, a barge picks up the ash and travels about 3 hrs to the transfer station located on Semakau (silently through the night). Large excavators, specially designed to grab these ash, loads them onto trucks which travels to a designated tipping site for disposal. Bulldozers and compactors ensures that both incinerated ash and non-incinerable waste within the land fill cell are leveled and compacted. Thereafter, soil is placed on top of these waste until ground level and greenery takes root.

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Beautiful isnt it? And the best part is yet to be. While NEA has restricted public access, the island itself houses various marine flora and fauna, boasts an inter-tidal walk where enthusiasts may catch glimpses of rare birds and rare sponges, and two plots of replanted mangrove swamp. The island also has a fish farm, a coral nursery, and a view of the Southern Tip of Singapore.

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Now, the issue close to our hearts? Recycling and waste management. While we humans should never be arrogant to think we may have the major say over nature, we each could play our small part to generate lesser waste. Pulau Semakau was intended to last until 2045, but with an alarming rate of rubbish being disposed everyday, authorities have revised their targets and Semakau is expected to last until 2035, 10 years ahead of time.

One wonders then, where will our rubbish go, after 2035?

Do leave us your comments/ thoughts.

*Credits to NEA for the featured image
**Credits to Desmond and team for organising the trip

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