What to do with waste when there is no land on which to dump it?

Such was Singapore’s dilemma back in the 90s when the existing landfill ran out of room.

As a small island on the tip of the Malay Peninsula, Singapore is land poor.

So Singapore came up with a novel idea to solve its problem.

They designated the sea space between two adjacent islands – Pulau Semakau and Pulau Sakeng – as a new landfill site called Semakau and, beginning in 1999, proceeded to fill it with primarily incinerated ash.

Receiving 1400 tonnes of incineration ash and 600 tonnes of other waste daily, this landfill is expected to be in use for at least the next 30 years.

But rather than looking like an unsightly dumping ground, the Semakau landfill has been transformed into an eco-park. This is, after all Singapore – the most squeaky-clean place on earth.

In creating the landfill, the two original islands have been joined together. And with a perimeter secured by an impermeable membrane of marine clay and rock layers, the surrounding marine ecosystem has been protected.

Mangroves and coral reefs ring the island and since 2005, Semakau has been open the public for nature-related recreational activities that include bird watching, stargazing, and intertidal walks along the Pulau Semakau shoreline where wide variety of marine animals can be seen.

Just 8 miles south of Singapore, it’s a quick 30 minute ferry ride but you can only visit this rubbish dump turned nature haven by going with a designated interest group.

The Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research offers a three hour intertidal walk that lets visitors discover seagrass meadows, coral reefs and various flora and fauna that is no longer even seen on the mainland. The Nature Society has occasional bird watching tours while the Astronomy Society of Singapore does stargazing trips.

From sea to landfill to Eco Park, Semakau really is a remarkable, if unconventional, trash to treasure endeavor.

(photo by wildsingapore via flickr)