Why It Matters

Wield stick to cut plastic use?

It may be time for the authorities to impose a charge on plastic bags, like they do in places such as Hong Kong and South Korea.

Plastic is Singapore's most common type of waste, accounting for more than 822,000 tonnes of the 7.81 million tonnes of waste generated last year. (Food is second, at 791,000 tonnes.) But it is an uphill task getting people here to kick the habit.

There have been several initiatives in the past 10 years. One was Bring Your Own Bag day, which ran between 2007 and 2010. It was held every Wednesday, with shoppers charged 10 cents for each plastic bag.

Yet when Zero Waste SG, a non-governmental organisation, approached retailers to get on board its newly launched Bring Your Own campaign, few did so. Of the 200 retailers approached, only 14 gave the nod and agreed to dangle discounts and deals to encourage their customers to cut down on the use of disposable plastic.

The new campaign is designed to give consumers incentives to take along their own bags, bottles and containers when they buy groceries or takeaway food. Mr Eugene Tay, executive director of Zero Waste SG, said the retailers who declined to participate cited increased operational costs.

Some consumers were also against the idea, saying they needed the plastic bags for their trash. Also, using their own reusable containers for takeaway food was troublesome, they added.

It is obvious people in Singapore need to be educated on the harm plastic does to the environment. This includes the amount of carbon dioxide it produces when it is incinerated.

Education, however, takes time - a luxury the environment can ill-afford.

A quicker, more effective, way is to adopt the Hong Kong approach, in which HK$0.50 (nine Singapore cents) is charged for each plastic bag. Within a year, the number of plastic bags disposed of in landfills dropped 25 per cent.

As past efforts show, dangling a carrot may not work. Perhaps, it is time for the stick.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 05, 2017, with the headline 'Wield stick to cut plastic use?'. Print Edition | Subscribe