Parliament: MP calls for carrier bag charges as a way to reduce plastic waste

An estimated 8 million tonnes of plastic waste is dumped in the ocean every year. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

SINGAPORE - MP Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) wants a charge to be imposed on single-use carrier bags of all materials, pointing out that after retailer Miniso started charging 10 cents for a plastic bag in 2017, its usage plunged by 75 per cent.

Mr Ng, speaking on the dangers to the environment of using plastic, said in Parliament on Monday (Oct 1) that an estimated 8 million tonnes of plastic waste is dumped in the ocean every year.

While Singapore incinerates plastic waste - which reduces land and water pollution caused by its disposal - it does not tackle the problem at its root, he said in an adjournment motion.

The higher carbon footprint of paper and biodegradable plastic bags also means substituting plastic bags for disposable carrier bags of other materials could have "negative environmental outcomes", he added.

A better solution, he said, is to ensure that people bring their own reusable bags when shopping, pointing out that one such bag could save 125 plastic bags from becoming litter or being incinerated.

Mr Ng argued that though plastic bags are given freely, consumers eventually pay for them. This is because retailers spend a significant sum on them, he said, citing that a minimart chalks up a monthly bill of more than $2,000.

"These costs are passed on to consumers, raising product prices. Hence, we are paying for these plastic bags," he added.

But for hygiene reasons, he suggested that plastic bags used to carry fresh produce, raw meat or seafood be exempted from any charges, as is done in Hong Kong. These bags could be reused to throw rubbish, he added.

Mr Ng also called on the public sector to lead the charge in cutting down plastic waste, starting with the National Day Parade.

This year's fun pack was filled with plastic items wrapped in plastic, he said, suggesting that future parades feature only reusable items with minimal packaging.

Responding to his speech, Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources, said her ministry believes in a "long-term approach" in building a national consciousness.

She also said her ministry takes the lead through such measures as not serving bottled water at meetings, and encourages other public-sector agencies to do the same at their events, including the National Day Parade.

It has also introduced such efforts as requiring companies to report the type and amount of packaging used in their products by 2020, as well as exploring the possibility of imposing waste collection targets for businesses that use or produce packaging.

Dr Khor also said that Singapore's waste policies, like incineration, mean the country is one of the smallest contributors to marine plastic pollution globally, citing a 2015 University of Georgia study.

Reusable bags may also not be more environmentally friendly than single-use bags, she said, citing a 2011 study by the British government which found that a cotton tote bag has to be used 173 times to have less of an environmental impact than a single-use plastic bag.

Dr Khor assured the House that her ministry will "continue to monitor developments" on the possibility of a carrier-bag charge.

"We will not hesitate to legislate where necessary. But we will do so by taking a pragmatic and considered approach that suits our local context," she said.

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.