WhyItMatters

Price of curbing plastic bag use

Supermarket shoppers may have to start paying for plastic bags next year, if Singapore's four main supermarket chains - FairPrice, Dairy Farm Group, Prime Supermarket and Sheng Siong - agree on implementing a plastic bag surcharge.

The discussions, reported by The Sunday Times this week, came about after a green group called on the Government and businesses last year to introduce a levy on the use of plastic bags, mainly as a disincentive to shoppers who use them.

A tax is not the first strategy aiming to cut plastic bag use. There have been other incentive-based schemes, although their success is debatable.

Some 822,200 tonnes of plastic waste was generated last year, but only 7 per cent was recycled. Non-recycled plastic bags, whether biodegradable or not, are all incinerated. So, while it is a pity that disincentives have to be used to get people to recognise the environmental impact, it is necessary.

FairPrice has had, since 2007, an incentive-based scheme offering customers 10 cents off a minimum spend of $10 if they take along their own bag. It saved the supermarket 10.1 million plastic bags in 2015, it said.

Still, any shopper can attest to how freely cashiers at most supermarkets give out plastic bags: Individual items are sometimes bagged separately, some are double-bagged, and even items that come with handles, such as rolls of toilet paper, are bagged again.

 
 
 

Plastic bags are useful for bagging food waste that can dirty chutes. But key to the issue is the sheer number of bags distributed. Many households will find that they have more bags than needed. The right recycling habits, such as separating food waste from other recyclables, could further reduce this number.

A plastic bag tax would serve to curb usage by encouraging people to take along their own bags.

In April, Japanese lifestyle brand Miniso began charging customers 10 cents for every plastic bag, and usage has dropped by as much as 75 per cent.

A Straits Times online poll showed that more than 70 per cent of almost 4,000 respondents supported a plastic bag tax. A levy may just be the kick consumers need to change entrenched habits.

Audrey Tan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 27, 2017, with the headline 'Price of curbing plastic bag use'. Print Edition | Subscribe