Change in consumer behaviour after plastic bag charge

The time has come when we cannot deny the urgency of tackling the impact of plastic waste on our planet anymore.

Plastic waste kills over a million animals each year. Every piece of plastic we use and dispose of carelessly will end up in our waters.

In the commentary "Charging for plastic bags may have unintended costs" (Oct 6), Professor Ivan Png said that "charging for plastic bags may have unintended consequences for public health and estate cleaning. It would affect how people dispose of food waste and increase the spread of vermin and diseases".

However, I will focus on problem-solving with first-best solutions instead of second-best solutions. Tackling the core of the problem will have the greatest impact of all.

A great number of influential countries and governmental bodies have begun to implement effective ways of reducing plastic usage over the past few years.

The European Union is leading the way in policymaking. European Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans said: "The European Commission has demonstrated with concrete pledges its strong commitment to the sustainability, security and prosperity of our oceans. If they are at risk, so are we, for the oceans nourish our planet and our people, and they connect us to our partners around the world."

I believe that there are many ways individuals can do their part to benefit the collective efforts in all countries of the world.

They can start on a personal level, by taking along their own bag and saying "no" to a plastic bag for lunch takeaways. When everybody starts to do this, shop owners will see the change in behaviour and will be more likely to stop offering the plastic bags in the first place.

On a policymaking level, charging all consumers a small amount for plastic bags can have a tremendous effect on the usage of plastic bags in a society. Proof of this is what happened in the Netherlands.

Since the implementation in January last year, a great change in behaviour of the Dutch consumer has been noticed. Some 80 per cent of all Dutch consumers now take their own bags to the grocery store.

A Singaporean initiative which is a great example of how a small incentive can go a long way, is the Bring Your Own campaign launched by environmental non-governmental organisation Zero Waste SG. A group of retailers is acting to reduce plastic waste in Singapore as part of the campaign.

From supermarket chains to a German sausage stall in Dover, 14 retailers will be offering small discounts to encourage their customers not to use plastic bags, bottles and containers from Sept 1 to the end of the year.

And building on a wider initiative to take action to reduce plastic litter and promote a sustainable ocean environment, the European Union Delegation to Singapore is organising, together with the Embassy of the Netherlands, a half-day conference on Wednesday titled "Towards a plastic-free ocean - what role for policymakers, civil society and business?". It will take place at the Four Seasons Hotel.

Margriet Vonno (Ms)


Embassy of the Netherlands to Singapore

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 23, 2017, with the headline 'Change in consumer behaviour after plastic bag charge'. Subscribe