Singapore is at the top of its game when it comes to innovation and sustainability. Between solar energy, sustainable fashion, and green recycling, the country is changing the way the world thinks about life as we know it. If you've never visited Singapore before, seeing its statistics on paper doesn't do justice to the incredible achievements the country has made to deserve the title of Asia's Greenest City. How exactly do they do it, and what can the rest of the world learn from the awe-inspiring world that is Singapore?
- Singapore's History of Innovation
- Can you drive in Singapore?
- Water Reuse in Singapore
- What is the Hydro-Hub in Singapore?
- Singapore's Investment in Solar Energy
- How Does Singapore Dispose of Trash?
- Green Living in Singapore
Singapore's History of Innovation
Although the country is small in stature — measuring only 31 miles wide by 17 miles long — Singapore is one of the most densely populated countries globally, with more than 5.6 million people living on the island. Although the population is high, you'd never know it by walking down the street. Singapore looks like something out of a futuristic film set, complete with beautiful beaches, open green spaces, and boardwalks.
While other Asian cities struggle with maintaining safe air pollution levels and over-population, Singapore stands out as the way that eco-friendly ways cities should evolve in the future. However, Singapore hasn't always been the beacon of innovation that it is today. The city's urbanization has cost it roughly 95 percent of its forests, including the vast majority of naturally occurring flora and fauna.
The government introduced its vision of transforming Singapore into an eco-friendly garden city in 1967 to improve the decline of natural green space and improve quality of life. The country's 1968 Environmental Public Health Bill states, "The improvement in the quality of our urban environment and the transformation of Singapore into a garden city – a clean and green city – is the declared objective of the Government." In the years since, the city has set aside roughly ten percent of its land for parks and nature preserves, including the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve and the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve.
The Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve is Singapore’s first Association of Southeast Asian Nations Heritage Park and showcases the country’s sustainability and biodiversity through wetlands and mangroves. In 2002, the park became recognized as a “site of international importance for migratory birds.” Wetlands International formally recognized the park as a member of the East Asian Australasian Shorebird Site Network. Since its creation, the park has grown to include more than 200 hectares of mudflats, mangroves, forest, and ponds, providing an eco-friendly home for hundreds of species of flora and fauna.
In 1992, the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (MEWR), known then as the Ministry of Environment, created a plan known as SGP, or the Singapore Green Plan. The eco-friendly plan established policies that would allow Singapore to become a model green city by 2000. Its objective was to "ensure that Singapore achieves economic development that meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the needs of future generations."
Singapore also recognizes the crucial implications of climate change. The country began setting aside funding in its 2020 budget to address rising sea levels, creating a Coastline and Flood Protection Fund with five billion dollars — a small portion of the $100 billion it estimates will be required to utilize over the next century to combat climate change. The government is also reducing its dependence on fossil fuels by implementing a carbon tax, the first country in Southeast Asia to do so. Carbon-emitting corporations producing over 25,000 tons of carbon dioxide each year must pay five dollars for each additional ton it produces.
Sustainable Singapore Blueprint
Singapore currently operates under the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint, a framework that updates the work started by the Singapore Green Plan, including the establishment of five main themes:
- "Eco-Smart" Endearing Towns
- A "Car-Lite" Singapore
- Towards A Zero Waste Nation
- A Leading Green Economy
- An Active and Gracious Community
Can You Drive in Singapore?
Although driving is allowed in Singapore, taxation and fees associated with car ownership and improvements to the country's public mass transit systems make purchasing a car an expensive decision. The small size of the country and its goal of remaining environmentally friendly led the government to implement the Singapore Area Licensing Scheme. The government implemented the regulations in 1975, the world's first example of this type of structure.
In 1998, the system received improvements, and Singapore rebranded it as the Electronic Road Pricing System. If you want to own a car in Singapore, you must pay duties for one and a half times the car's market value and bid for a Certificate of Entitlement. This document gives the car permission to run for ten years. Instead of having personal vehicles, people in Singapore travel by bus, bicycle, taxi, and train.
Water Reuse in Singapore
Water is one of the essential elements our bodies can't live without. However, water shortages exist across the country and the world. California faces droughts and forest fires, Australia has struggled with drought, and Brazil's lack of sufficient infrastructure caused a water crisis during the last decade. That doesn't even begin to touch the critical issues Puerto Rico has overcome after Hurricane Maria or the adversity the residents of Flint, Michigan, face daily.
Threats to clean and safe drinking water – both human-made and by Mother Nature — impact billions of people each year. Changes to the way people approach the sustainability of our current water practices are critical to our survival. As with many other eco-friendly practices the city has adopted, Singapore is changing the status quo on water usage.
Although people worldwide are facing the challenges of water supply demands, one country, in particular, has gone above and beyond in exceeding expectations. Thanks in part to its partnership with sustainability brand Jacobs, Singapore benefits from an integrated water management system that utilizes stormwater runoff and water reuse to meet a large volume of its water needs. Nearly 800,000 cubic meters of water cycle through Singapore's eco-friendly water treatment facilities daily to meet personal drinking water and industrial demands.
In 1966, Singapore's Public Utilities Board introduced industrial water, a version of reclaimed water that serves as a non-potable water source for businesses and manufacturing. In 2003, the country upgraded its processes to create NEWater. This high-grade reclaimed water is transformed from treated sewage, also known as used water, using a three-step process. The water purification includes ultrafiltration/microfiltration, reverse osmosis, and ultraviolet disinfection.
Although the purified water exceeds the Environmental Protection Agency's water standards for cleanliness for potable water, Singapore considers public opinion with how the water is used. NEWater isn't used directly after purification but is instead mixed with rainwater in reservoirs before being treated again and then distributed for potable use. Thanks to eco-friendly practices and a priority on sustainability, NEWater can meet approximately 40 percent of the country's overall water demands.
What is the Hydro-Hub in Singapore?
Another investment Singapore is making in water sustainability is the creation of its Hydro-Hub. The country currently uses roughly 430 million gallons of water each day, a number which the government expects to double by 2060.
Singapore's National Water Agency promotes water sustainability by focusing on three fundamental principles:
- To collect every drop of water
- To reuse water endlessly
- To desalinate more water
Singapore hosts more than 180 water companies in its Hydro-Hub to create an eco-friendly water research community and foster technology that promotes water sustainability. SUEZ, a global water treatment company from France, recently opened an innovation center to enhance water sustainability initiatives long term in Singapore. One of the company's many goals is to utilize analytical software to create a smart water grid. Completing this goal will allow water experts to track water usage, supervise stormwater management, and complete research projects on increasing the country's water treatment facilities' energy suitability.
Singapore's Investment in Solar Energy
Singapore is targeting more than just eco-friendly water practices to overhaul the sustainability of its utility use. The country is turning to solar power to transition its electricity use from environmentally damaging practices to something more eco-friendly. Solar power generates no carbon emissions, is clean, and helps elevate Singapore's energy security.
Although Singapore is a perfect location for solar power, in theory, deploying the panels on a massive scale is difficult due to weather conditions and land constraints. The challenges are something the Energy Market Authority (EMA) is willing to take on, however. EMA is investing in the research and development necessary for energy storage and solar forecasting. Singapore's government has also created the SolarNova program, an effort by the country's Economic Development and Housing Development boards to "accelerate the deployment of solar photovoltaic systems. This programme helps to promote and aggregate demand for solar PV across government agencies to achieve economies of scale, as well as drive the growth of Singapore's solar industry."
As of 2020, the country continues to expand its eco-friendly solar practices through a partnership with Australia. The continent's deserted Outback, specifically the Northern Territory between Alice Springs and Darwin, is set to become home to the world's largest solar farm. Sustainability company Sun Cable says the farm will cost approximately $20 billion to build and cover more than 46 square miles, a size that will make it visible from space.
Sun Cable says construction will begin in 2023 to create and export energy by 2027. The farm will not only generate enough energy to power all of the Northern Territory, but two-thirds of the power will travel 2,800 miles via underwater cables to Singapore, where it will supply roughly 20 percent of the country's energy needs.
By 2050, Singapore estimates that it could supply roughly 43 percent of its energy needs through solar power. This sustainability initiative would be made possible partly by the country's strategy of installing photovoltaic modules in all available locations. Currently, Singapore's sustainability efforts include installing solar photovoltaic systems on the roof of public housing buildings and the recent launch of floating solar panels.
How Does Singapore Dispose of Trash?
Another way Singapore is focusing on sustainability is through the creation of the Semakau Landfill. In 1999, Singapore began utilizing Semakau as its first offshore landfill, located roughly eight kilometers south of the country. Officials were deliberate in the design of the landfill to ensure its sustainability and eco-friendly appearance. Semakau Landfill features an impermeable membrane lining and silt screens to prevent the nearby coral from damage by any clay and leachate.
Although many traditional landfills are unsightly, smelly, and filled with trash, Singapore's eco-friendly practices are seen at Semakau to ensure it operates unlike its unsightly counterparts. Singapore is home to four incineration plants, each tasked with burning the country's garbage until it becomes ash. Each evening, barges carry the ash from the plants to Semakau Landfill for disposal. The barges feature a tight covering to prevent ash from blowing into the air during transit.
When the barge arrives at Semakau Landfill, it enters the enclosed transfer building and unloads its containers. Excavators with specialized buckets unload the waste onto heavy-duty dump trucks, which then travel along the landfill's perimeter to the designated disposal cell. Once each landfill cell is full, excavators cover it with soil. The landscape of Semakau Landfill is full of green grass and trees that take root on each of the closed disposal cells, giving the site a natural and eco-friendly appearance.
Green Living in Singapore
By 2030, Singapore aims to have 80 percent of its buildings achieve Green Mark Certification. This designation recognizes dedication to quality of living as well as a focus on sustainability. The city touts the Marina Bay Sands hotel as its most notable achievement in environmental sustainability and eco-friendly design. The building stands out both visually and as a beacon of sustainability.
Marina Bay Sands features a meticulous design that includes:
- Lighting that uses a computer to control brightness based on weather and time of day
- An air conditioning system that pulls double duty. Water-cooled chillers provide air conditioning while the heat produced by the chillers heats the hotel's hot water. The building also utilizes sensors that turn off the air conditioning if they detect that the building's doors remain open for an extended time
- The food waste the hotel produces is processed in the basement to create recycled water.
When you visit Singapore, you'll never feel like you're walking in one of the most densely populated countries in the world. And that's precisely how they like it.