Aim for higher standards when dealing with waste

The discussion on plastic bags has not led to a decision on legislation to curb their use.

Discouraging the use of plastic bags could have been done either by imposing a token levy or by encouraging alternatives.

While it is universally accepted that plastic bags have a disastrous impact on the environment, we squabble over their convenience and economic viability.

Singapore is, however, at the stage of development where not every decision has to be motivated by the economic argument alone.

We can now live by an ethical as well as an economic compass, even if it means taking a path that is initially less convenient.

After all, we have never shirked from making bold, tough decisions.

Plastic bags are but a sliver of the overall fight against plastics, but they are symbolic and act as daily reminders for us.

They are symbolic because they empower the average citizen - this is something you and I can do every day to make a greener world, even if larger decisions on packaging or recycling might be out of our hands.

They are reminders because the act of using our own reuseable bag at the supermarket is the "gateway" first step to thinking about waste and reducing our individual carbon footprint.

The advantage of having a population that has started to do the right thing is that people will be more open to and disciplined about taking on the larger responsibility of sorting their waste for recycling.

Once the habit has begun, it will be less of an uphill battle for us as a nation when serious islandwide recycling is introduced.

Our garbage now goes down rubbish chutes in millions of flimsy, leaky plastic bags, which we collect indiscriminately and thoughtlessly at supermarkets for the purpose.

Paying a few cents for a stronger, better bin liner will not only be more hygienic, but it will also make us think about our waste for just one moment.

That moment of hesitation is needed before change occurs. And change always happens faster with a little push or pull, delivered through legislation and pricing.

So, while countries and cities worldwide are taking the environmentally sound step of banning plastic bags, Singaporeans can and should set themselves this challenge too.

As a country, we can show a lot more boldness and aim for a higher ethical standard as we do the right thing.

Gouri Mirpuri (Ms)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 12, 2018, with the headline 'Aim for higher standards when dealing with waste'. Print Edition | Subscribe