With the Semakau landfill set to run out of space by 2035, waste is one of the most pressing environmental issues facing the island state of Singapore. Fortunately, innovators have risen to the occasion to develop waste-reducing and circular economy solutions. One of the immediate ways Landscape Architects and built environment practitioners can contribute to the solution is to adopt some of these innovation into their designs. Here are some of my recent favourites.
NEWSand is an alternative to sand, made of residue from waste treatment plants. Developed by National Environment Agency (NEA) in collaboration with Nanyang Technological University (NTU), the material is undergoing testing and product development, but is available for test application in projects upon request. NEWSand can be used as aggregates in road base or sub-base for asphalt or as aggregates for non-structural concrete which can be applied as paving on low-load paths, kerbs, furniture or non-structural feature walls. Apart from reducing the waste going to landfill, the use of NEWSand also alleviates environmental issues created from sand mining in source countries. NEWSand also creates resilience to sand supply for Singapore. What’s there not to like about this!
With only 4% of plastics recycled in Singapore (statistics released for 2020), the recycled plastic asphalt developed by Magorium is much welcomed. Oh Chu Xian and Adriel Ng founded the startup while they were students from Singapore Management University (SMU) to commercialise the proprietary technology that replaces 10-12% of bitumen in asphalt premix. Installations have been completed at a factory carpark in Tuas and a condominium in Bishan, having passed the rigorous testing standards imposed by Land Transport Authority (LTA). The technology won multiple awards at startup competitions since its inception, and we sure hope will continue winning more, so that the product can receive more mileage and scale up plastic reuse at meteoric speed.
Recycled rubber permeable concrete
Landscape Architects obsessed with permeable paving will love this one. Developed locally by a chemical and material science company, this permeable concrete is made of rubber recycled from discarded sports shoes. First applied as ground material for tennis courts, typically concrete, which is sufficiently hard but has a longstanding problem of not drying efficiently after rain, the material has proven strong enough to be used as carpark and road material that allows water to permeate at amazing speed. This is game changing for designing drainage in landscapes, and enables green spaces to be designed as transient stormwater retention spaces that still function for recreation use. The product is carried by B.T. Sports, a local contractor.
Recycled rubber softpour
The same company that developed the permeable concrete mentioned above also developed a soft pour (EPDM) material from the same waste collected. The material is first commissioned to be used for jogging tracks at local sports facilities, but is increasingly applied as ground material for play and fitness spaces. The material has been tested and proven to be free of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC). Collection points are also recently established across the island, enabling the community to contribute their disused sports shoes and avoid having them end in the landfill. Collection points can be found at https://circle.myactivesg.com/old-shoe-new-future In addition to designing with the material, going the extra mile to send unwanted shoes to collection points instead of the chute completes our participation in creating a circular economy through this means.
Off-shore innovation scan
Casting the net beyond the shores of Singapore, exciting innovation await trial and adoption locally.
Basilik, self-healing concrete
This inspires much excitement. A self-repairing concrete made possible by bacteria incorporated into the concrete mix that convert certain nutrients to calcium carbonate when exposed to oxygen and water. The very elements that reduce the lifespan of concrete by corroding reinforcement bars now become the catalysts for the material to self-seal cracks. This is especially helpful in a tropical environment subject to high moisture level. The longevity of concrete is extended, which reduces the need for replacement and the resulting waste. The genius and novelty of the product is in itself worth testing it!
Green ceramics and 3D printing filament
The University of New South Wales Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology (SMaRT@UNSW) presents cutting edge technology for turning waste into building materials. Green ceramics are produced from recycled waste glass and textile fibres, and can be used for wall tiling, floor paving, furniture and more. This is enabled by the MICROfactorieTM technologies developed by the centre which is also able to recycle textiles and plastics into “renewable” filament for 3D printing, an increasingly important construction method for achieving productivity. The beautiful products convincingly promote waste as a resource.
The detail in detail design
In addition to adopting materials designed to create circular economy, small efforts like detailing design with a consciousness to reduce material wastage can go a long way to reduce construction waste. This can be as simple as choosing paving patterns that will minimise offcuts of material that cannot be used for the project.
May this article inspire even more ideas for how Landscape Architects and other built environment professionals can reduce waste or create circular economies. I would love to hear from you if you have some!
About the Author:
Abby Ng is a Landscape Architect, architectural designer and urban thinker with more than a decade’s practice at National Parks Board Singapore, having directed the design and development of major green spaces including Jurong Lake Gardens, Sungei Buloh Nature Parks network parks in Singapore. A keen advocate for sustainability, she pioneers the adoption of new technologies in sustainable materials, waste to energy systems, mobility, circular economies and decarbonisation in the built environment.