Supermarkets may charge for disposable bags in future

There will be discussions on how much to charge and when move can be implemented

Senior Minister Of State For Sustainability and The Environment Amy Khor.
Senior Minister Of State For Sustainability and The Environment Amy Khor.

Plastic bags may no longer be free at supermarkets, with the Government ready to open discussions on when such a measure can be implemented and how much should be charged.

Revealing this yesterday, Senior Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment Amy Khor said supermarkets and members of the public will also be consulted on the mode of charging - whether it is per bag, from the third bag, or per transaction, and at five cents or 10 cents per bag, for example.

She said the timeframe needed to implement the charge will be considered, as the industry would need time to adjust. Dr Khor added there might be a need for legislative amendments.

The Government would also have to think about where the proceeds from the disposable bag fees would go to, such as towards environmental causes.

She said one of the reasons for the Government's decision to implement a disposable bag charge was that consumers were increasingly becoming receptive towards charging for disposables.

Dr Khor stressed that while charging for carrier bags, including those made of paper, is not a silver bullet in tackling the excessive use of disposables, "even if it's a token mandatory charge for disposable carrier bags at the supermarket, it will serve as a very useful, important reminder to the shopper to take and use the bags mindfully".

She was speaking at the final session of a citizens' workgroup on reducing the use of disposables, where the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment (MSE) and the National Environment Agency (NEA) announced eight recommendations they supported and will help to develop.

One of the eight is the charging model for disposable bags in supermarkets.

The MSE and NEA will start public and industry consultations later this year in developing the model.

In a speech at the workgroup in January, Dr Khor explained why the Government has not charged a fee for disposable bags so far.

The reasons included the need for plastic bags to bag waste responsibly and hygienically, the stringent anti-littering measures here, and the cost impact on low-income households.

Yesterday, Dr Khor said Singapore's steps towards establishing fees for disposable carrier bags in supermarkets will consider any potential impact on low-income households.

Since November 2019, FairPrice has imposed a plastic bag charge at 25 outlets.

The bags are charged at 20 cents per transaction at its supermarkets, and 10 cents per transaction at its convenience stores like Cheers.

Between 2019 and last year, those outlets saved 15.6 million plastic bags, noted Dr Khor.

About seven in 10 customers who shopped at those outlets chose to have their own bags with them or refused plastic bags.

Retailers such as Uniqlo, Watsons, H&M and The Body Shop are also charging for single-use carrier bags.

In 2019, about 200,000 tonnes of disposables, enough to fill 400 Olympic-size swimming pools, were sent for incineration.

Dr Khor added that a 2018 study by the Singapore Environment Council found that shoppers here take 820 million plastic bags from supermarkets each year, or 146 bags per person.

The excessive consumption of disposables adds to carbon emissions, and the incineration ash takes up valuable space at Semakau Landfill, said NEA in a statement.

Supporting the citizens' workgroup recommendation to enhance sustainability education on e-learning platforms, MSE and NEA will work with the Education Ministry to enhance the teaching of environmental sustainability in schools through the Eco-Stewardship Programme, and adapt the content into a one-stop website for the public.

On the suggestion for apps or gamification methods that can provide incentives for people to track and reduce their usage of disposables, NEA and MSE encouraged people to explore this and incorporate this in existing apps and platforms.

People and organisations keen to work with the Government to jointly develop some of the recommendations can register their interest at go.gov.sg/cwginterest by May 31.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 11, 2021, with the headline 'Supermarkets may charge for disposable bags in future'. Subscribe