By Hua Qian Hui
In view of the news that no levy will be placed on plastic bags in Singapore , there is a greater need for citizens to adopt a greener lifestyle. But why?
Plastics not only require a massive amount of non-renewable resources  to produce, its inadvertent disposal upon a single-use and the consequences that follow are also giving conservationists a huge headache. In 2016 alone, the amount of plastic disposed in Singapore reached 147kg per person  and in 2017, 2640 plastic bags are thrown away every 3 seconds , yet our plastic recycling rate remained at 7% since 2003 .
Such unnecessary and unsustainable use of plastics has already impacted us in many ways negatively. Firstly, plastics are one of the most common types of rubbish polluting our shores  where trash of hundreds of kilograms  can easily be picked up. Secondly, plastics are injuring and killing marine life [7,8] including whales, birds and turtles through, for example, entanglement, ingestion and smothering . In fact, plastics have already found its way into our bodies [10,11] from our seafood consumption that comes with adverse health effects like reproductive abnormalities .
As Singapore deals with waste via incineration, every kind of wastage is contributing to the huge amounts of climate-relevant emissions  and toxic ash spewed from our plants. This is partly why a switch to biodegradable plastics  does not solve the problem at its root, and usage reduction is always encouraged. At the current usage rate of 3 billion plastic bags per year locally (using 37 million kg of crude oil and 12 million kg of natural gas) , a collective effort in bringing your own reusable items would make a significant difference.
While usage varies amongst individuals, each reusable bag can replace 125 single-use plastic bags  in a year. Besides, opting for eco-friendly items to replace disposables has become increasingly accessible with the rise of more eco-vendors online. The following list of reusable items would make an ideal first step in commencing your plastic-free journey.
Change is happening but slowly. According to a review on international policies in tackling single-use plastics , plastic bags are banned and/or taxed in many countries like France, Morocco, India and South Africa. Locally, eco-warriors like Ms Shihui Khee would always bring along reusable items to bag her purchases in a bid to reduce wastage that could contribute to global warming . She would also not patronize stalls that insist on using disposable packaging, thereby creating awareness that such eco-conscious consumers exist and, hopefully, increasing. Importantly, although alternatives can be limited by industrial packaging, any Tom, Dick or Harry can adopt a more eco-friendly lifestyle by starting small, such as bringing your own reusable straw and food pouch to cut down on unnecessary plastics.
Small steps do make a difference.
1. Boh, S. Parliament: No plan to impose plastic bag levy, other types of disposable bags not much greener: Amy Khor. (2018).
2. Halden, R. U. Plastics and Health Risks. Annu. Rev. Public Health 31, 179–194 (2010).
3. Pek, S. B. Carrot and stick approach needed in tackling plastic waste. (2018).
4. Paulo, D. A. & Peh, Y. The monstrous scale of plastic bag wastage in Singapore. (2018).
5. Insights on Marine Trash in Singapore. (2014). Available at: http://www.greenfuture.sg/2014/08/12/insights-on-marine-trash-in-singapore/. (Accessed: 9th May 2018)
6. Othman, L. Tanah Merah beach cleaning drive turns up 500kg of waste. (2016).
7. Sheavly, S. B. & Register, K. M. Marine debris & plastics: Environmental concerns, sources, impacts and solutions. J. Polym. Environ. 15, 301–305 (2007).
8. Abreo, N. A. S., Macusi, E. D. & Blatchley, D. D. Ingestion of marine plastic debris by green turtle(Chelonia mydas) in davao gulf, Mindanao, Philippines. Philipp. J. Sci. 145, 17–23 (2016).
9. Gregory, M. R. Environmental implications of plastic debris in marine settings--entanglement, ingestion, smothering, hangers-on, hitch-hiking and alien invasions. Philos. Trans. R. Soc. B Biol. Sci. 364, 2013–2025 (2009).
10. Smillie, S. From sea to plate: how plastic got into our fish. (2017).
11. Cole, M., Lindeque, P., Halsband, C. & Galloway, T. S. Microplastics as contaminants in the marine environment: A review. Mar. Pollut. Bull. 62, 2588–2597 (2011).
14. Rochman, C. M. et al. Policy: Classify plastic waste as hazardous. Nature 494, 169–170 (2013).
15. Sudesh, K. & Iwata, T. Sustainability of biobased and biodegradable plastics. Clean - Soil, Air, Water 36, 433–442 (2008).
16. Tan, A. 3 billion plastic bags a year? Cut use with mandatory tax. (2017).
17. Mahmud, A. H. Using 1 reusable bag over a year can replace 125 plastic, 52 paper bags: NEA study. (2018).
18. Xanthos, D. & Walker, T. R. International policies to reduce plastic marine pollution from single-use plastics (plastic bags and microbeads): A review. Mar. Pollut. Bull. 118, 17–26 (2017).
19. Mahmud, A. H. From ditching disposables to composting, the women going the extra mile to reduce waste. (2018).
Article on the BSF research by Channel NewsAsia.
"The NUS team is using research and development to not only better understand the functions and fundamental biology of the black soldier fly, but modify its behaviour to better suit the country’s urban space."
Photo: Pichayada Promchertchoo
Our research on using fly larvae to reduce food waste was featured in the Straits Times today. "Black soldier flies, armed with voracious appetites as larvae, are being bred here to eat discarded food, at the same time creating a rich fertiliser for plants. When their job is done, the larvae themselves are turned into nutritious animal food."
ST photos: Johnathan Choo
Chinese New Year is the start of Chinese calender also known as the Lunar New Year. In Southeast Asia, this is often accompanied by Yusheng or the tossing of a Prosperity salad. It includes many shredded vegetables, sweet sauces, condiments and raw fish (we used smoked salmon). These are tossed up together in a group to welcome the new year with good fortune.
ReproLab members and folk from our neighbouring labs joined in for our own prosperity toss. So what did we scientists say? Here's to good health (lab safety), wealth (research grants) and prosperity (publications).
We made a trip out to the local Citizen Farm to check out the their operation of organic waste recycling using Black Soldier Flies (BSFs). BSF larvae are voracious eaters and can break down nearly 50-70% of organic material and convert 10-12% of that waste into biomass of protein and fats that can be used for animal feed. In our lab, we're interested in the reproductive traits in these flies and we're keen on learning how to optimize fecundity and fertility to increase efficiency and nutrient cycling.
The Science Cafe is a free event that occurs every last Thursday of the month and it aims to promote scientific discourse among the public. The organisers invite scientists and science professionals to speak in a casual setting to discuss a wide range of topics. Dr. P was invited to give a talk about a insects and she gave one entitled "The sexy lives of these sexy flies". It was well received and the Q&A was especially engaging with audience members asking questions ranging from insect biodiversity to policy to fly p*rn. Certainly a memorable event.