18 November 2018

Let's help NParks stop grasscutters from littering plastic strings

Thanks to NParks sharing background on the issue and the immediate and long-term steps they are taking to stop grasscutters from littering plastic nylon strings. This follows my letter to NParks and MSO on 7 Nov.
Some of the many sightings of plastic strings
found by the public since Aug 2018.
NParks has instructed their contractors to stop littering. In the longer term, NParks hopes where possible, to convert grass areas into Nature Ways. NParks appreciates the sightings and mapping and hopes the public can continue to help pick up legacy string and share sightings, in order to keep track of the situation and permanently resolve this issue.
Sightings are updates on this public google map.

On 15 Nov 2018, I met with Dr Adrian Loo (Group Director, Conservation Division), Mr Tee Swee Ping (Coordinating Director, Streetscape Landscape Branch) and Mr Bryan Yeo (Deputy Director, Streetscape Central North Branch) at their office, thanks to their arrangement. They shared the following:

NParks thanks the public for the sighting of nylon strings and hopes we can continue to share them. The sightings  are shared in this facebook album and mapped in this google map. More about the sightings in this blog post.


NParks shared that in the 1990s, nylon string replaced the more dangerous metal blades previously used by grasscutters.

All along, there have been clauses in grasscutting contracts for imposing liquidated damages for contract violations such as littering of nylon strings. The amounts vary depending on location, and severity, e.g., recalcitrant behaviour despite repeated advice and warnings. Application of these liquidated damages are recorded and can affect the contractor during tender evaluation.

Following our letter, NParks has done the following:

NParks has met up with contractors which cut the majority of grass areas and have told them to stop littering and to pick up any legacy strings that they come across.

NParks will also inform town councils and other agencies that conduct grasscutting to do the same.

NParks has also encouraged contractors to convert to bio-degradable string and so far, they have been quite cooperative.

Hopefully though, NParks will take a closer look at the alternative string used and ensure these really bio-degrade into harmless compounds and do not merely disintegrate into smaller and smaller pieces of microplastic. See the European Commission report (pdf) advising AGAINST the use of oxo-plastics as they merely degrade into microplastics.

The European Commission report says "So called oxo-plastics or oxo-degradable plastics are conventional plastics which include additives to accelerate the fragmentation of the material into very small pieces, triggered by UV radiation or heat exposure. Due to these additives, the plastic fragments over time into plastic particles, and finally microplastics, with similar properties to microplastics originating from the fragmentation of conventional plastics."

It is probably better to encourage grasscutters to avoid littering used nylon strings than to switch to oxo-plastics which generate microplastic.

In the longer term, NParks hopes where possible, to convert grass areas into Nature Ways. Replacing grass with native plants. "Nature Ways are designed to replicate the natural structure of forests as far as possible. Trees, shrubs and groundcover are planted along the streetscape to re-create habitats similar to those found in natural forests. Greenery along these routes are also enriched with flowering plants which attract butterflies and support their breeding." says the NParks website. Without grass, there will be no need for grasscutting. Nature Ways also provide natural habitats for our native animals, small and large. This is indeed the best solution to grasscutter littering!
Current Nature Ways from the NParks website.
NParks hopes the public can continue to share and map the sightings, in order to keep track of the situation with the aim of permanently resolving this issue.

So please continue to send your sightings of grasscutter strings so we can help NParks remove legacy string and keep track of whether contractors are doing their part to stop littering string as they cut the grass.

More background

Why is NParks leading on grass cutting?

Since 1 Jun 2015, greenery maintainence has been centralised with NParks taking over public grass-cutting and pruning of trees/plants/shrubs/other vegetation for areas managed by SLA, PUB and HDB. More details on the NPark website.

Why are these strings an environmental issue?
From this earlier blog post

These single-use plastic strings are a source of environmental pollution. They are made of nylon which do NOT biodegrade into harmless substances. Instead, over time, they break down into tinier and tinier particles of plastic (microplastics).

When the strings wash into our waterways, they add to debris and microplastics. These microplastics can end up in the water we drink.

At the water's edge, Upper Seletar Reservoir
18 Oct 2018 by Ria Tan.

Studies have shown that microplastics can enter the food chain, harming wildlife and people who eat wild-caught fish and other marine life, as well as aquacultured fish and seafood.

15 strings found at Eco-Lake, Singapore Botanic Gardens,
among leaf litter where black swan forage
17 Oct 2018 by Ria Tan
Given the vast expanse of grass in Singapore, if there is no systematic, permanent stop to littering of these strings, their pollution potential will only grow over time.

2 comments:

  1. Ria, 2 weeks ago, I picked up 20 pieces of those strings within 10 mins at the hut leading to the Semakau Inter-tidal Walk

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow, that's a lot of string. Thanks for letting me know. If you're on facebook, please send me any future sightings with a photo, ok? https://www.facebook.com/wildsingapore

      Delete

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