Can all of Singapore’s trash fit on one little island? The answer’s yes, but not for long!

The Little Landfill That Could

Think of Singapore’s outlying islands, and you’ll probably imagine petting the tortoises on Kusu island, diving at Pulau Hantu, or camping on Saint John’s Island. But have you heard of Pulau Semakau?

Located eight kilometres off Singapore’s Southern Coast, this little island is home to Singapore’s only landfill—a 3.5 square-kilometre space that holds all the trash of Singapore’s 5.6 million people.


That’s no mean feat, considering that as a nation we generated 7.7. million tonnes of waste in 2018. Imagine just a fraction of that weight filling the Semakau Landfill each year, and you can probably imagine why our waste problem is piling up.

So, how does one little island hold all that trash? We delve into what makes this ingenious landfill tick, and clear up some misconceptions you might have about Pulau Semakau.

Pulau Semakau—Myths And Reality

Myth: Pulau Semakau smells horrid
Reality: Pulau Semakau is stench-free

“But isn’t Pulau Semakau and the landfill overflowing with trash?” You may ask. Not quite, as most of the trash is incinerated on the mainland, before being transported to the landfill as ash.

Here’s the big picture on how the Semakau Landfill ties into Singapore’s overall waste management strategy:

Step 1: The waste we dispose of is collected and sent to Waste-to-Energy plants for incineration.
Step 2: The waste is incinerated and turned into incineration ash.
Step 3: The ash is transported to the Semakau landfill in barges, which are covered to shield the ash from wind and seawater.
Step 4: The ash is then transported via truck to designated sites for final disposal.


Myth: Pulau Semakau is filled with trash
Reality: Pulau Semakau is a verdant green sanctuary

If you’ve never been to Pulau Semakau, it’s easy to imagine a wasteland devoid of any wildlife.

Pay a visit to the island, however, and you’ll marvel at how green it really is. The island is home to coral reefs, mangroves and rare birds like Great-billed Herons.


Myth: Pulau Semakau can hold waste indefinitely
Reality: Semakau Landfill’s space will run out by 2035

Just 15 years from now, Pulau Semakau will be completely filled. As a nation, we want to reduce the waste sent to Semakau Landfill by 30% by 2030, thus extending Semakau Landfill’s lifespan beyond 2035.


Conserving our future

While important, the Semakau Landfill is just one link in the complex chain of our national waste management strategy.

As Singapore heads into the second decade of the 21st century, we have plans to play our part in the global fight against climate change.

Here are just some of the initiatives that we’ll undertake over the coming years:

  • The Zero Waste Masterplan

The Zero Waste Masterplan outlines our key strategies to manage three sources of waste— e-waste, food waste and packaging waste (including plastics). Companies, households and the government will work hand-in-hand to close resource loops by reducing, reusing and recycling, which turns waste into resource.


  • The Resource Sustainability Act

This legislation imposes upstream regulatory measures that target the three priority waste streams. These measures will encourage businesses to be mindful of their environmental impacts, and encourage the redesigning of products that require less materials, last longer and are more easily recycled.

  • Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)

By 2021, producers will be responsible for the collection, treatment and disposal of electrical and electronic products that they put on the market (like batteries, lamps and computers). The EPR will also be extended to cover packaging waste by 2025, or even earlier!


Game for Change—#SaveSemakau

While climate change and environmental problems may seem too far-off (and far-reaching) for any individual to make a difference, we can all do our part in conserving Mother Nature.

Our little landfill needs your help. Here are five easy ways to play your part, #SaveSemakau and champion the environment. 

Ditch the disposables

Many of us tend to avoid plastic bags these days, but other disposables you can safely cut out of your day-to-day routine include disposable plates, plastic cutlery and bottled drinking water.

Make a meal plan

While Singaporeans may certainly love eating, we may be over-estimating the size of our bellies! In 2018 alone, we disposed of 636,900 tonnes of food. Be sure to buy and cook only what you can finish.

Eliminate paper mail

Nothing’s quite as annoying as receiving unwanted mail—It clogs up your coffee table, sits around your dining room and never gets read. You may want to manage your subscriptions every few months to cut down on paper waste.

‘Marie Kondo’ your shopping routine
Waste output is directly linked to how much we consume as individuals. The next time you’re on a shopping spree, ask yourself if that cardigan really sparks joy before buying it. The earth (and your wallet) will thank you!

Learn to repair your damaged products

Instead of throwing out that scuffed wallet or tattered pair of jeans, you could pick up a beginner’s class in tailoring or leatherworking. It’ll help conserve the environment, and you’ll be enriching yourself at the same time.


Want to check out Pulau Semakau for yourself? If you’re teaching, working with a community group or part of a business organisation, you can apply for a visit to Pulau Semakau for your class or colleagues with the online booking form on NEA’s website.


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