Category Archives: sustainability

Where the skies are not blue

A field trip! To a farm! That seemed like the kind of things we would only get to experience back in primary school. But the BES freshmen recently had the opportunity to visit a local farm called Sky Greens. Here’s a little bit more about it!

BES students getting a guided tour around the farm

Sky Greens is a vertical farm located in Yio Chu Kang and it was founded in 2010 by Mr Jack Ng. It is the world’s first low carbon and hydraulic driven vertical farm. Woah woah… what does this mean?

Basically, the vegetables are grown on shelves fitted on 9m high structures. How this farm works is that the shelves will rotate throughout the day to ensure that the vegetables on different shelves will receive sufficient sunlight for growth. Rainwater collected on the farm is pumped into the system to allow the shelves to rotate and also irrigate the plants.

Vegetables being grown on shelves

Mr Jack Ng shared that he started this project because he was interested in doing farming after he retired. However, as current farming methods are very labour intensive, he decided to explore better farming methods.

While some farms may use hydroponics, Sky Greens grow their vegetables in nutrient rich compost. The contents of the compost include “Nespresso” recycled coffee grounds, recycled vegetable waste, beneficial microbes, seaweed extract, bean sprout waste, recycled woodchips and chicken manure. It was really amazing how he was able to reuse food waste and incorporated them into his compost, turning waste into something useful instead! Such efforts to reduce waste are truly admirable. In fact, the coffee grounds act as a form of natural insect repellent due to its acidity, thus benefiting the vegetables as well.

More photos pf the farm

The efficiency of this farm also was truly mind-blowing. It required 95% less water, 75% less labour, electricity and 10x more yield compared to an open field vegetable farm.  It honestly sounded too good to be true! Such green solutions are definitely needed, given that the global demand for food is increasing while resources are becoming more scarce. Moreover, the farm produces approximately 500kg of greens per day which are packaged and sold at FairPrice express outlets around the island. The greens sold are mostly what locals consume (Cai Xin, Xiao Bai Cai, Mai Bai etc). In fact, it only takes 4hours for the greens to hit the shelves after being harvested, in comparison to imported produce which can range from 3 days to 3 weeks. (Lim, 2015).

A packet of Nai Bai Cai from sky greens

Mr Jack Ng explained that he wanted to keep his produce organic and not use pesticides to keep the pests away. As such, he resolved this problem by producing “mini vegetables” instead. These mini vegetables are smaller in size than regular vegetables, but also required less time to grow (only 3-4 weeks are required!) By harvesting the vegetables earlier, he would be able to reach the food before the pests, so that no pesticides would be needed. I personally thought that was a pretty genius idea.

Test results proving that the mini-series contained higher levels of Polyphenol, which acts as an                                                                                            antioxidant

Moreover, this mini-series was also found to contain 35% more antioxidants than regular Cai Xin. What struck me as well was his heart behind producing the vegetables this way. Mr Jack Ng shared that he was adamant about not using pesticides as he would only be willing to grow what he would be willing to eat. As a farmer, he had the responsibility over what he was producing, because it was what people were going to consume. Truly, being a farmer is more than just planting crops, but also impacting the health of whoever would be consuming your food!

As a country that imports more than 90% of our food (AVA, 2019), we are heavily dependent on other countries to supply us the food we need. Honestly, that is quite scary, because we definitely cannot sustain ourselves if we were to stop importing food. With urban projects such as Sky Greens, we are certainly heading towards more efficient and sustainable methods of food production and increasing our food security in the long run. What an eye-opening trip!

Written by: Ann Shin

References

LIM, J. (2019). Vertical farming invention wins global award. Retrieved 9 September 2019, from https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/vertical-farming-invention-wins-global-award

AVA Vision | AVA Unveils Updated Food Security Roadmap. (2013). Retrieved 7 September 2019, from https://www.sfa.gov.sg/files/avavision/issues3-4_2013/food-security-roadmap.html\

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What are the millennials up to lately?

Self-centred, self-absorbed, self-entitled. They are always on their phones, can’t let go of what they love, and seriously, they always think they deserve better in this world.

They are the millennials the society all so frown upon this day… right?

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Article posted by The Straits Times last week!

If you have seen young people watching their instagram feed every moment at noon on 15 March, looking disconnected and dissatisfied with the world, you have probably just encountered someone who has joined the Global Climate Strike 2019 (Tan, 2019). And he or she is probably more conscious about her surrounding and the world than you did at that moment.

Advocating for greater climate action is no longer the sole responsibility of climate scientists or influential businessmen and politicians; the young ones are taking charge, telling the world how the future generations deserve better and how the planet deserve better.

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Greta Thunberg (in yellow) the 16-year-old millennial who started this movement!

The global climate strike was a concerted effort of thousands of students from all over the world. In many of the countries, the students were skipping school and physically coming together to show the grown-ups that one doesn’t need to be rich and powerful to demand a change from the world.

Despite the growing movement towards sustainable development, climate change scepticism still prevails. This clearly shows that we should no longer rely on the scientists and statisticians to persuade the authorities and the general public.

In Singapore, where strikes and protests are not an option, the young people chose to make their voices heard by having a virtual strike on social media.

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Post for the Global Climate Strike from local advocates @theweirdandwild and @tingkats.sg

Several of the climate action and sustainability pioneers in Singapore have also expressed their support for this initiative. Singapore, as the forefront of urban development in Asia, has the ability to lead and set an example on sustainable development for the region (Hermes, 2019). While the booming trend of adopting zero-waste lifestyle such as ditching single use plastic straws and other disposable products used to be criticised as simply a fad, the fact that a growing number of young people have stayed religiously faithful to their commitment shows that the millennials in Singapore are ready to be the change they have envisioned.

Indeed, the millennials are still self-centred, self-absorbed and self-entitled. However, the sense of “self” has grown out of the stereotyped individualism. To the fervent advocates of climate actions and environmental sustainability, they feel the sense of entitlement not for themselves but for the environment, they are so stubborn that they refuse to budge from their pledges to slow climate change and most of all, while the world label millennials to be full of themselves, their belief that every individual has a power to change allow them to push forth many successful ground-up initiatives in the past years.

The strike may be over, but climate change doesn’t stop, and neither should our climate actions!

Written by: Andrea Law

References:

Tan, A. (2019, March 11). Global youth movement on March 15 calling for greater climate action may be held in Singapore as well. Retrieved from https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/environment/global-youth-movement-on-march-15-calling-for-greater-climate-action-may-be

Hermes. (2019, March 15). Strike by Singapore students unlikely. Retrieved from https://www.straitstimes.com/world/strike-by-spore-students-unlikely

Do You Eat to Live or Live to Eat?

There exists two extreme groups of people in this world: those who eat more than they need and those who struggle to get enough to survive. Even if you fall into neither of the groups, we’ve all probably been guilty of food wastage before!

Either way, it is clear that much of humanity’s dietary choices are slowly killing this planet.

The EAT-Lancet Commission recently published a report detailing the environmental unsustainability of a modern-day diet – high in red meat but low in vegetables. According to the UN, livestock contributes to at least 14% of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions which is equivalent to the emissions of all vehicles combined! If this is not alarming enough, think about it as being responsible for half the total global GHG emissions by the year 2030.

The reason for this is the large amount of methane emitted by livestock and the need for grains to feed them. On the other hand, having a plant-based diet drastically reduces the level of GHG one would emit. Dr. M. Sanjayan from Vox shared in a video that an average of 330g of CO2 is produced for every serving of beef, 74g for any cheese and 14g of CO2 is emitted for every serving of vegetables or rice and a shocking 2g for lentils.

Before we start accusing Lancet of trying to brainwash everyone into adopting veganism or vegetarianism, this is absolutely not the case!

What the EAT-Lancet Commission is proposing is the adoption of a Planetary Health Diet that is similar to the Mediterranean diet – one that is largely plant-based with moderate consumption of dairy and low consumption of red meat.

Based on the planetary health diet, it is recommended to reduce our food consumption by one serving of red meat per week, one ounce of white meat and fish and a quarter of an egg per day. This is equivalent to simply eating less of one serving of beef rendang, one serving of chicken (as in a plate of chicken rice), one tuna sandwich and 2 eggs every week.

I know it’s difficult… but you can do it!

Here is a food guide for the Planetary Health Diet:

adas

Figure 1

While it seems stringent, the nutritious value does not fall short of the 2000 kcal needed by an average adult every day.

If changing personal diets can save the planet, then what are we waiting for?

Unfortunately, there are problems equally, if not more pressing, than the sustained high GHG emissions; the global food system impacts not only the rich but also the poor. It is indeed applaudable that the first world countries persist in their pursuit to alleviate issues such as global warming and environmental degradation as a result of the global food system. However, as we overcome these issues through breakthroughs in sustainable food production methods one after another, we must never overlook the fact that there is way more people who are overfed than those that are malnourished in the world.

According to the Guardian, while around 820 million people worldwide are underfed, over 2.6 billion people are at the same time either overweight or obese, and many of these cases arise due to poor dietary choices.

Hence, beyond just informing the world about making better dietary choices, the Planetary Health Diet could potentially be tailored to achieve better food distribution around the world.

This begs the question: how do we make such a radical change to the food systems in the world?

It is not uncommon for individuals to lack motivation when it comes to drastic lifestyle changes. Therefore, more top-down approaches can be adopted to induce a greater change in people. Perhaps, on top of the “healthier choice” label in dining places, dishes that adhere to the Planetary Health Diet guide can be marked out to give consumers a better indication of the better choices that they can make.

So, to all those faced with the first-world problem of deciding what to eat every other meal, the Planetary Health Diet could very well be your solution!

Written by: Andrea

References:

Barclay, E. (2019, January 24). The way we eat could doom us as a species. Here’s a new diet designed to save us. Retrieved from https://www.vox.com/2019/1/23/18185446/climate-change-planet-based-diet-lancet-eat-commission

Carrington, D. (2018, November 28). Global food system is broken, say world’s science academies. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/nov/28/global-food-system-is-broken-say-worlds-science-academies

Why boycott Kopi Luwak?

Kopi Luwak is one of the world’s most expensive coffee; one cup can cost about 80USD (109SGD). But what is Kopi Luwak? Simply put, it is coffee made from coffee beans that have been through the digestive system of the Asian palm civet (Luwak in Indonesian).

Brief process of making of Kopi Luwak

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Image from http://www.most-expensive.coffee/

Kopi Luwak was rumoured to originate in the 18th century in Indonesia, which was still under the Dutch colonial rule. At that time, the natives toiling in the coffee industry were not allowed to taste any of the coffee that they have been working to produce.  At the same time, they observed that the wild civets also ate coffee cherries, leaving undigested coffee beans in their excretions. Thus, the farmers collected these seeds, cleaned and roasted them to make their own brew of coffee.

Later, the Dutch discovered this special brew of coffee, and they found that it tasted better than what they had. It is said to be because civets only chose the ripest cherries, so coffee beans found in their faeces are uniformly of the best quality. In addition, the fermentation process and natural enzymes in the civet’s intestines break down some of the proteins in coffee beans. This results in coffee that is more aromatic, less bitter, and smoother (less acidic). Even so, the question of whether it indeed tastes better than other gourmet coffee yields varying opinions. While some say it tastes better, more feel no difference, or even say that it is worse, because it is bland (due to its lower acidity) and does not taste as complex.

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Image from http://nordiccoffeeculture.com/what-kopi-luwak-is-and-why-you-should-avoid-it/

Nevertheless, the popularity of Kopi Luwak grew rapidly, with many wanting to have a taste of this exotic (and expensive) beverage. Yet, it is difficult to find the faeces of the civets in the wild; only about 250-500kg of wild Kopi Luwak beans are produced each year, nowhere near enough for this industry to be commercially viable. As a result, farmers started to cage the civets for their precious droppings, without considering their welfare.

In the worst cases, some farm owners crammed the civets in tiny cages and exclusively fed them coffee cherries. However, wild civets are solitary, territorial animals. When forced so close to each other, especially in such poor living conditions and only allowed a limited diet, gory outcomes result: they fight with each other, chew away their own limbs, start passing blood in their faeces, and eventually die. With only coffee cherries provided to them, eating them is no longer a choice, it is their only option. Essentially, the high quality associated with Kopi Luwak is eroded. To make things worse, these civet farms even became tourist attractions, where many would come to the coffee plantation to see the civets, then enjoy a cup of Kopi Luwak.

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Image by Ulet Ifansasti, Getty Images

After so many years, what propels this industry is the high demand for Kopi Luwak. From a commercial product, it had grown to become a tourist attraction, where tourists are invited to view the captured civets, processing of coffee beans, then have a cup of Kopi Luwak. Apart from the ethicality of this practice, the authenticity of the coffee sold is also questionable. Coffee labelled Kopi Luwak may not have been anywhere close to a civet, or only contains a small percentage of the real deal, but are sold at exorbitant prices (compared to normal coffee). While it may seem fine to drink authentic coffee beans obtained from wild civets, this perception is wrong. There are no certification schemes and it is simply impossible to determine the source of coffee. If the demand does not die down, the conditions of these civets will only get worse.

Now, there is only one effective way to protect these civets: stop drinking Kopi Luwat completely.

By Shenny Goh

References

Kopi Luwak is the most expensive coffee in the world! (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.most-expensive.coffee/ (Accessed 21 Sep, 2018).

Wisotzky, M. (2017, August 1). Kopi Luwak anyone? It’s just $80 a cup. Retrieved from https://coffeewithoutlimits.com/kopi-luwak-anyone-just-80-cup/ (Accessed 21 Sep, 2018).

Animal Coffee (n.d.). The History of Kopi Luwak. Retrieved from http://coffeeroastersdirect.com/the-history-of-kopi-luwak/ (Accessed 21 Sep, 2018).

Kolbu, C. (2015, April 22). What Kopi Luwak is and why you should avoid it. Retrieved from http://nordiccoffeeculture.com/what-kopi-luwak-is-and-why-you-should-avoid-it/ (Accessed 21 Sep, 2018).

Wild, T. (2013, September 13). Civet coffee: Why it’s time to cut the crap. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2013/sep/13/civet-coffee-cut-the-crap (Accessed 21 Sep, 2018).

Bale, R. (2016, April 29). The Disturbing Secret Behind the World’s Most Expensive Coffee. Retrieved from https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/04/160429-kopi-luwak-captive-civet-coffee-Indonesia/ (Accessed 21 Sep, 2018).

Reusable straws: It’s time to walk the walk

Do you see those colourful pieces “decorations” on the beach? Do you notice that smell wafting from the HDB garbage chute that doesn’t smell quite like dinner?

Almost 7 million tonnes of solid waste is produced is Singapore every year and only a meagre 6% is being recycled. While Singapore does have well-developed waste treatment, trash can still be found polluting our natural environment and residential areas.

That, is the result of improper waste disposal.

It is easy to say that we can solve this problem by urging waste disposal companies to be more mindful in transporting waste, or by punishing litterbugs to deter such behaviours. However, these strategies can never reduce the amount of waste we’re generating.

As consumers, we play a pivotal role in environmental protection.

It has always been a challenge to start a green movement in Singapore. While other Asian countries are actively advocating practices like phasing out Styrofoam containers, charging for disposable plastic bags and improving recycling efforts, Singapore’s progress in green consumerism remained stagnant.

The situation seems to have improved with the increasing hype over reusable straws.

 

Images from: https://www.lazada.sg/ and https://www.seastainable.co/

I bet many of you own one of these straws which can be made of metal, glass or bamboo. They come in different colours, textures and even sizes, catering to Singaporean’s demand of 2.2 million plastic straws a day. But are we really using them because we are aware of the positive impact this habit can bring, or did we just order a set of straws because it’s the newest trend?

Ask any sustainable living advocate and they will tell you that in order to make a difference, you need your reusable items in one hand and commitment in another.

Many critics question the true practicality of reusable items, and one common issue identified is the inevitable generation of carbon footprint in the production of reusable products. According to an article on Asia One, a reusable bag needs to be used for more than 100 times before it can offset whatever degradation the production of this bag done to the environment.

This shows that in order to truly make a difference, one must be persistent about this change instead of abandoning this habit once the trend dies down.

Lauren Singer, an environmental activist, mentioned in a video with Vox that consumers should not be the only ones responsible for reducing the piles of trash we have accumulated; the producers should be made accountable for the disposal of their products as well. She mentioned that once corporations start bearing the responsibilities of excessive waste generation, they would be compelled to adopt more eco-friendly business strategies.

Fortunately, many corporations are on board with the new plastic straw free movement. KFC, Starbucks and some food courts around Singapore have stopped providing plastic straws at the counter and this encourages patrons to purchase a reusable straw or simply stop using a straw. This joint effort between businesses and consumers have greatly reshaped Singapore’s image when it comes to environmental consciousness, and I believe the growing popularity of Seastainable metal straw plays a great part in this movement.

It is heartening to see that young people, often stereotyped as stubborn and indifferent, are the ones leading this straw-free movement, drawing from their social influence to make a difference for the environment.

Think of the view of Singapore’s polluted coastline, the stench coming from the ground floor of your HDB blocks and remember why you got on board with this straw-free movement. One day, we will all look back and be glad that we are free from these eyesores.

 

Written by: Andrea Law

 

References:

Ong, L. (2018). Metal straws and reusable bags may not be as eco-friendly as you think. Retrieved from http://www.asiaone.com/singapore/metal-straws-and-reusable-bags-may-not-be-eco-friendly-you-think

Koh, H. (2018). 80% of Singapore consumers ready to ditch plastic straws. Retrieved from https://www.eco-business.com/news/80-of-singapore-consumers-ready-to-ditch-plastic-straws/

Chan, M. (2018). This S’porean Wants To Save Our Oceans With Her Metal Straws – Sold 3,500 Sets In Just 6 Months. Retrieved from https://vulcanpost.com/642438/seastainable-metal-straws-singapore/

NG, C. (2018). All 84 KFC outlets to stop providing plastic straws and lids for drinks. Retrieved from https://www.straitstimes.com/lifestyle/food/all-84-kfc-outlets-to-stop-providing-plastic-straws-and-using-plastic-caps-for-drinks

Langone, A. (2018). http://time.com. Retrieved from http://time.com/money/5333715/starbucks-hyatt-ban-plastic-straws/

Going vegetarian for the environment

Personally, I’m an omnivore and my only concern for food is how good it tastes. Although I have always heard about how environmentally damaging eating meat is, I never put much thought into the situation. This led me to picking up this topic to learn more about the nitty gritty of meat production. It turns out the problem was worse than I expected. My steak probably didn’t come from a cow who frolicked in the clovers. It was probably confined in small cages and rested on a cold, hard cement floor. Similarly, my chicken was probably confined into small cages known as battery cages.

Such is the reality for the meat we eat. In fact, the majority of meat we eat comes from animals bred and confined in a place called an AFO (Animal Feeding Operation) (Worldwatch Institute, n.d.). According to American standards, AFOs are facilities where animals are confined and fed for at least 45 days in any 12-month period, and their feed is delivered from outside to the mouths of the animals (EPA, n.d.). AFO’s elder brother, Concentrated AFO (CAFO), has an additional criterion of having at least 450,000 kg worth of livestock in it (USDA, n.d.).

1.pngAs they say, a picture speaks a thousand words… or cows

(Picture taken from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/sustainabletable/2950338558/in/photostream/)

Squeezing so many animals into tight conditions is not only unethical, but also poses serious environmental problems. At such high densities, the resulting quantities of manure (aka poop) can range from 3 to 20 times that of human waste produced in America (Hribar, 2010). In addition, CAFO owners typically add monstrous amounts of water to the manure before placing them in a pool. In this manure lagoon, bacteria guzzle on the nutritious meal and generate huge amounts of gas; greenhouse gases like methane and nitrous oxides as well as foul smelling ones like hydrogen sulfide (with a rotten egg smell) and other Volatile Fatty Acids (with a manure smell). 1 kg of methane and nitrous oxide can trap as much heat as 25kg and 298kg of carbon dioxide respectively – that’s how potent they are.

Given that there are so many AFOs nowadays, the combined greenhouse gas emissions are astronomical. In events of high rainfall or flooding, the contents of the lagoon can overflow and pollute the environment. The two main concerns are the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria and eutrophication. I shall stop here before I turn this into an essay, but bear this in mind – what I’ve just said is the tip of the iceberg.

Energy wise, eating meat is not a very efficient method. According to the ecological pyramid, only 10% of the energy is transferred from one tropic level to the next. This means that a cow would only receive 10 units of energy from a plant with 100 units of energy; a human would then only receive 1 unit of energy from that plant, should they eat the cow. However, they would be able to receive 10 units of energy if they eat the plant directly. This makes eating meat more energetically inefficient than eating plants. Given that mechanization has replaced much manpower in the crop and meat production, we are also wasting the resources used to produce the meat itself.

As we can see, while delicious, meat may not be the greenest food. However, crops are not all that good either. There are flaws in the way farmers are farming, which causes problems like loss of topsoil and leaching of nutrients. However, we can’t live without food! If we want to both survive and stay green, eating vegetables seems like the lesser of two evils. If you are indeed concerned about the environment, I would recommend you going vegetarian. Start small! One meal a week, followed by 1 day a week, then 2 days a week and so on.

At this point, you may have given up the thought of eating meat. Sorry to disappoint you, but I foresee a future where eating meat may be more common than eating vegetables. This is due to the rise of insects and lab-grown meat as alternative sources of protein. Once they become commercially viable, we may be eating them in the future! Who knows? Perhaps 10 or 20 years down the road my juniors will be critiquing my post for advocating the consumption of vegetables (especially broccoli L).

2.pngWould you eat this? I would!
(Picture taken from: https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2018/07/lab-grown-meat/565049/)

That’s all from me for now. Personally, reading up on this topic has made me more conscious of eating as much meat as I did.

Be green, eat green!

Written by: Lee Yang

References:

Worldwatch Institute. (n.d.). Retrieved from Worldwatch: http://www.worldwatch.org/rising-number-farm-animals-poses-environmental-and-public-health-risks-0

EPA. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/npdes/animal-feeding-operations-afos

USDA. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/national/plantsanimals/livestock/afo/

Hribar, C. (2010). https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/ehs/docs/understanding_cafos_nalboh.pdf.

 

World Water Day 2018

world water day

Psst, World Water Day is coming up soon! Here’s a little tip for you to celebrate the upcoming World Water Day on March 22nd:

Go on down to one of the Singapore World Water Day (SWWD) roadshows with your latest Singapore Power (SP) bill, and if the folks at the roadshow see that you’ve been a diligent water saver, you’ll be able to receive an exclusive premium. This sweet opportunity will be waiting for you during the entirety of March, but limited stocks are available (just like one other precious, precious resource).

Find your nearest roadshow here: https://www.pub.gov.sg/getinvolved/singaporeworldwaterday

The above link is also where you can find SWWD’s official partners, including Ben & Jerry’s and oBike, who are eager to offer you a steal of a deal for the right water-saving attitude.

Here’s something to think about this World Water Day: wetlands. Sure, we need to do all we can to keep that fresh, clean, thirst-quenching clear water running out of our taps. But is that enough? Nature needs water too, and we need nature.

Urbanising cities have a common trend of gradually encroaching on natural spaces like wetlands. These cities will only expand and multiply as time passes, and it may seem a waste to preserve a wetland when it could be a bustling hub. The truth is, however, that wetlands are important to us, even to those of us who live highly urbanised environments. Wetlands provide a wide array of ecosystem services, such as absorbing excess rainfall during storms and helping to reduce the risk of flooding. Now, that’s relevant.

In particular, Singapore boasts a sprawling Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, which is not only a site teeming with heritage, but also with birds of every shape and size. Native birds, exotic birds that have travelled from across the world to spend the winter in sunny Singapore – our very own wetlands are a key stopping point in the East Asian Australasian Shorebird Site Network, which include Kakadu National Park in Australia, Mai Po in Hong Kong and the Yatsu Tidal Flats in Japan.

This World Water Day, maybe leave a little room in your thoughts for the wetlands around the world and in our own garden city, while you’re taking a short shower.