Many support FairPrice plastic bag fee trial, but some upset over having to pay

Domestic helper Jennifer Dela Cruz, 39, and her employer, Ms Jolin Chen (in black), 34, using reusable bags to pack their groceries at FairPrice Xtra at Hougang One mall yesterday. Shoppers are charged 10 cents or 20 cents for plastic bags during the
Domestic helper Jennifer Dela Cruz, 39, and her employer, Ms Jolin Chen (in black), 34, using reusable bags to pack their groceries at FairPrice Xtra at Hougang One mall yesterday. Shoppers are charged 10 cents or 20 cents for plastic bags during the month-long trial. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

No free plastic bag? No problem, said many shoppers at the start of FairPrice's "No Plastic Bag" trial yesterday.

What customers say, and do, during the month-long trial at seven outlets will shape the supermarket giant's future plans on curbing plastic bag use, said FairPrice chief executive Seah Kian Peng.

"At the end of this one-month trial, we will put all this together to see how we should rework, repackage or come out with a new scheme for implementation across the island," he said.

While most of the more than 30 customers approached by The Straits Times said they supported the move to charge customers for plastic bags, others were upset.

As part of the trial - which was launched amid growing global awareness about the excessive use of single-use disposables - customers are charged 20 cents at some FairPrice stores, and 10 cents at selected Cheers and FairPrice Xpress convenience stores. The money collected goes to the Singapore Children's Society and The Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund.

The stores taking part in the trial are FairPrice Xtra at Hougang One mall, FairPrice Finest at Zhongshan Mall, FairPrice at Tai Seng mall, FairPrice Xpress in Lorong Chuan and Cheers outlets at Sengkang Community Hospital, and in Create Way and Aljunied Road.

At Hougang One mall, shopper Charles Yap, 64, brought his own trolley to hold his groceries. "It is not too much of a hassle and it is much better for the environment," said Mr Yap, who is unemployed.

At Zhongshan Mall, housewife Cindy Goh, 64, paid for plastic bags - but did not mind.

"If FairPrice is giving the 20 cents to charity, I think it is okay, I don't mind paying. If it goes to FairPrice, I will bring my own bag," she said.

"If I forget to bring my own bag, and it costs 20 cents per bag, I will come back another time to make my purchase."

But some shoppers, used to getting the bags for free, were upset.

At Tai Seng mall, a retiree in his 70s who wanted to be known only as Mr Yap said he did not know about the scheme until he was paying for his groceries. He ended up putting his groceries in a bag his wife had with her.

He said: "FairPrice already earns so much that they can give to charity, why do they need to charge us?"

A plastic bag surcharge has been a hot topic of discussion in Singapore as the Republic focuses more on the need to tackle climate change by reducing resource consumption. Plastic bags are made from crude oil and natural gas - fossil fuels that contribute to climate change. They are also a major cause of pollution worldwide, particularly marine pollution.

Shopper Kohodai Dada, 39, a software engineer from Papua New Guinea who has lived here since 2014, said that just starting a conversation would help.

"Just talking about (a surcharge) changes our shopping habits... Where I come from... our parents taught us to recycle, so we do it.

"I think it is a good thing. I am from the Pacific and we see first-hand what it does to our marine life."

Asked why the surcharge was imposed on a per-transaction basis instead of charging custo-mers for every bag taken, Mr Seah said it was to keep things simple for shoppers.

"Plastic bags in Singapore do have a use," he pointed out.

"How we get rid of plastic bags here is also different from how other countries dispose of their bags."

In Singapore, plastics are inci-nerated before being sent to a landfill, reducing the likelihood of stray bags finding their way into the waterways.

Mr Seah said the trial aims to convey two key messages. "Can we first try to bring our own bag? And if we do need plastic bags, can we take the minimum number instead of the maximum?

"The real success is when each and every one of us realises we have a part to play."

• Additional reporting by Jacklin Kwan

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 17, 2019, with the headline Many support FairPrice plastic bag fee trial, but some upset over having to pay. Subscribe