No plastic bag surcharge as ‘greener’ disposables not better for environment

SIAU MING EN Today Online 6 Mar 18;

SINGAPORE — Often touted as “greener” alternatives to plastic bags, paper and degradable bags may not actually be better for the environment — at least not in Singapore’s case.

Compared to plastic bags, they may require as much resources to produce and have a similar environmental impact, as waste here is incinerated before going to the landfill and not left to decay.

Revealing the findings of a study commissioned by the National Environment Agency (NEA) on Tuesday (March 6), Senior Minister of State (Environment and Water Resources) Amy Khor said the authorities would thus not impose a charge on plastic bags.

“Imposing a charge or ban on disposable plastic bags and substituting them with other types of disposable bags is unlikely to improve environmental outcomes,” said Dr Khor.

Whether retailers should charge for plastic bags to curb excessive consumption has been a long-running debate here. Last year, four major supermarket chains were reportedly in talks to charge for plastic bags.

The study – by National University of Singapore academic Kua Harn Wei – concluded that consumers could reduce their environmental impact by often using reusable bags and food containers instead of disposables.

Dr Khor said the Government will step up engagement with stakeholders.

Some of its measures include disallowing the use of disposables for dine-in customers at new hawker centres, such as at Our Tampines Hub, Pasir Ris Central and Yishun Park. The rule will also apply at 13 other new hawker centres that will open by 2027.

Dr Khor was responding to questions by some Members of Parliament. Ms Cheng Li Hui (Tampines) and Non-Constituency MP Dennis Tan asked about the possibility of imposing a levy to cut excessive use of plastic bags.

Packaging waste made up a third of the 1.67 million tonnes of domestic waste generated here last year.

About 15 per cent of the packaging waste – or about 83,550 tonnes – is made up of plastic and paper disposables, such as single-use plates and take-away food containers.

Dr Kua’s study, which began in Sept 2016, found that plastic bags designed for a one-time use had the biggest impact on the environment. Greenhouse gases are generated to make them from fossil fuels (crude oil), and when the bags are incinerated.

Some businesses offer oxo-degradable bags as a more eco-friendly alternative. But the additives that help to speed up the degradation process could interfere with the recycling process when mixed with conventional plastics.

They also require a similar amount of resources to manufacture as plastic bags.

Paper bags are derived from trees and require a large volume of water to produce. They are also unable to bag wet items.

A reusable bag used over a year could save 125 plastic or degradable bags, or 52 paper bags, Dr Kua found.

“Taking into consideration both the monetised cost and environmental impact, reusable bags emerged as the most environmentally-friendly option for carrying groceries and similar items,” said the NEA.

The study also found single-use plastic plates and containers generated the most greenhouse gases and consumed the most energy.

Paper plates require large tracts of forest land to be modified, while single-use paper boxes with plastic lining are energy-intensive to make.

Biodegradable corn-starch containers are becoming more common in Singapore. But forests may be cleared and large amounts of water are needed to grow the corn.

Meanwhile, the environmental impact of polystyrene was found to be lower, but they use up Singapore’s limited landfill space.

Porcelain plates or reusable containers used over five years could replace 3,650 single-use containers, Dr Kua found.

Dr Khor said the Government will reduce packaging waste upstream. By 2021, businesses will have to report the type and amount of packaging they put on the market and their plans for reduction. Industry consultations will start this year.

To NCMP Leon Perera’s question on microplastics – part of the growing problem worldwide of marine trash – Dr Khor pointed to anti-littering laws and beach clean-ups.

During the treatment of used water, microbeads, a form of microplastics, are also “substantially removed as sludge and disposed of by incineration”, she said.


Using 1 reusable bag over a year can replace 125 plastic, 52 paper bags: NEA study
Aqil Haziq Mahmud Channel NewsAsia 6 Mar 18;

SINGAPORE: The use of one reusable bag over a year could replace the use of 125 single-use plastics bags or 52 single-use paper bags, a life-cycle assessment (LCA) study commissioned by the National Environment Agency (NEA) shows.

An LCA study evaluates the environmental impact associated with the stages of a disposable and reusable item’s life cycle.

“Due to their single-use design and function, plastic bags were found to have the biggest environmental impact in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and energy use,” NEA said in a release.

“The greenhouse gases associated with the processing of crude oil used as source material to manufacture the bags, and the greenhouse gases from the bags’ incineration, contribute to climate change.”

Last year, a third of the roughly 1.67 million tonnes of domestic waste disposed in Singapore comprised packaging waste, which includes single-use disposables such as plastic bags and food packaging.

The amount of packaging waste discarded annually in Singapore is enough to fill more than 1,000 Olympic-size swimming pools.

“While single-use plastic bags are needed by households to bag waste, the excessive consumption of disposables is a waste of resources and it contributes to our carbon footprint and climate change,” NEA said.

The study covered the common types of single-use plastic and degradable bags, as well as paper and reusable bags, used in Singapore.

For comparison, researchers assumed that a family buys 50 items per week. The 50 items were placed in the different types of bags to determine how many of each type were needed to carry the 50 items.

Based on this, the study estimated that the use of 10 reusable bags, or non-woven polypropylene or nylon bags, over a year is equivalent to the use of 1,248 plastic or degradable bags, or 520 paper bags.

“Single-use paper bags and degradable bags are often seen as eco-friendly alternatives to plastic bags,” NEA said. “However, paper bags need large amounts of water to make and cannot be used to bag wet items.”

As for degradable bags, the fact that some types of them – like oxo-degradable bags – are made of plastic with additives to accelerate degradation means they leave a similar environmental impact to plastic bags when incinerated.

“In Singapore, waste is incinerated and not left in landfills to degrade,” NEA said. “In addition, oxo-degradable bags could interfere with the recycling process when mixed with conventional plastics.”

Other types of degradable bags, like plant-based polylactic acid bags and corn-starch bags, require large tracts of forest land to be converted into farmland and huge amounts of water to grow their raw materials, NEA added.

“Taking into consideration both the monetised cost and environmental impact, reusable bags emerged as the most environmentally-friendly option for carrying groceries and similar items,” NEA stated.

“Other than using reusable bags, consumers can also reduce their impact on the environment by reusing single-use bags.”

FOOD PACKAGING

The same study also estimated that the use of one reusable plate or container over five years could replace the use of 3,650 pieces of single-use plates or containers.

For dine-in plates, the study found that single-use plastic plates resulted in the most greenhouse gas emissions and energy use during their life cycle as they are made from crude oil, NEA said.

“It also found that the manufacturing process for plant-based corn starch plates is energy intensive,” it added.

Similarly for take-away containers, the study found that single-use plastic containers resulted in the most greenhouse gas emissions and energy use.

“Single-use paper boxes with an inner plastic sheet, used for dishes such as fried rice, were equally energy intensive to make,” NEA said.

“Furthermore, the nature of the raw materials entails high consumption of water and the conversion of large tracts of forest land.”

This part of the study covered common types of dine-in plates and take-away containers used in Singapore. For comparison, researchers assumed that two meals were served daily.

Melamine and porcelain dine-in plates were found to have lower impact on the environment as compared to disposables, the study found, as they can be reused multiple times, taking up fewer resources and emitting less greenhouse gases during their life-cycle.

Meanwhile, the study also found that reusable take-away containers, which consume more water for washing purposes, left the same environmental impact as their disposable counterparts.

However, the study added that reusables were still more environmentally friendly in other aspects like greenhouse gas emissions and energy use. In addition, the study did not account for potential littering issues and increased landfill use arising from the use of disposables.

SOLUTIONS

Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor said a more sustainable way of reducing the environmental impact of carrier bags and food packaging is to “tackle the excessive consumption of all types of disposables”.

Based on the study’s findings, “imposing a charge or ban on disposable plastic bags and substituting them with other types of disposable bags is unlikely to improve environmental outcomes”, she added in her ministry's Budget debate speech on Tuesday (Feb 6).

“The study concluded that consumers can generally reduce their environmental impact by using reusable bags and food containers instead of disposables.”

To that end, Dr Khor said agencies will step up engagement with stakeholders to “cut down the excessive use” of plastic bags and disposables like single-use containers.

For example, she pointed out that online food delivery service, Foodpanda, is working on a trial where customers can opt out of disposable cutleries when ordering food, while consumers who brought reusable bags to supermarkets earned incentives under Zero Waste Singapore’s Bring Your Own campaign last year.

Businesses would also need to report the type and amount of packaging they put on the market and their plans for reduction by 2021, Dr Khor stated, adding that industry consultations will start this year.

“It could also be as simple as cashiers proactively asking customers at payment counters if they want a plastic bag, instead of automatically giving them one,” Dr Khor suggested.

“We will continue to support such efforts while holistically tackling the broader issue upstream by reducing all types of packaging waste at source.”

Source: CNA/hz


Tackling excessive plastic bag use: No levy in the works
NEA exploring a more sustainable approach than imposing a fee or ban, says Amy Khor
Samantha Boh and Audrey Tan Straits Times 7 Mar 18;

There are no plans to introduce a levy on plastic bags, and replacing them with degradable or paper bags may not be greener, Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources, said yesterday.

"Imposing a charge or ban on disposable plastic bags and substituting them with other types of disposable bags is unlikely to improve environmental outcomes," she said during the debate on her ministry's budget.

Every type of disposable bag, be it a degradable bag or a paper bag, affects the environment, be it through carbon emissions, heavy water use or significant land clearance, she said, citing a study commissioned by the National Environment Agency (NEA).

Dr Khor was replying to a question from Ms Cheng Li Hui (Tampines GRC), who had asked if the ministry would consider imposing a levy on plastic bags to reduce their excessive use.

The NEA study had looked at the environmental impact of disposables, including carrier bags.

An estimate from the study is that the regular use of a reusable bag over a year could replace the use of 125 single-use plastic bags, or 52 single-use paper bags. Similarly, it also estimated that the regular use of one reusable container over five years could replace the use of 3,650 single-use plates.

Some retailers in Singapore claim that degradable bags are greener alternatives to plastic bags and offer them instead. But the study, led by National University of Singapore scientist Kua Harn Wei, also found that both types of bags require the same amount of resources to make.

Both are equally bad for the environment when incinerated.

Noting that no levy on plastic bags is being planned, Dr Khor said these bags are necessary for the responsible and hygienic bagging of waste, given the country's moist, tropical climate.

"In Singapore, a more sustainable approach is to tackle the excessive consumption of all types of disposables," she added, saying her ministry is working with stakeholders to minimise the use of plastic bags and disposables.

She said, for example, that food delivery company Foodpanda is working on a trial where customers can opt out of disposable cutlery use when ordering food.

Environmental group Zero Waste Singapore last year launched a campaign to encourage consumers to take reusable bags or containers with them to eateries and supermarkets in return for discounts or free gifts.

On its part, the NEA will explore ways to reduce the use of disposables. Hawkers at new hawker centres managed by the NEA or by NEA-appointed managing agents - such as those in Our Tampines Hub and Yishun Park - have already been prohibited from providing disposables to patrons who dine in.

In line with Singapore's Zero Waste vision, Dr Khor outlined plans to reduce packaging waste.

Last year, Singapore produced about 557,000 tonnes of packaging waste - a third of domestic waste and enough to fill more than 1,000 Olympic-size swimming pools.

Dr Khor noted that the voluntary Singapore Packaging Agreement has cumulatively reduced almost 39,000 tonnes of packaging waste since its inception in 2007.

More will be done to reduce packaging waste at source, she said. "By 2021, we will mandate that businesses report on the type and amount of packaging they put on the market and their plans for reduction."


No plan to impose plastic bag levy, other types of disposable bags not much greener: Amy Khor
A study found that the regular use of a reusable bag over a year could replace the use of 125 single-use plastic bags, or 52 single-use paper bags.
Samantha Boh and Audrey Tan Straits Times 6 Mar 18;

SINGAPORE - There are no plans to introduce a levy on plastic bags, and replacing them with bio-degradable or paper bags may not be that much greener.

"Imposing a charge or ban on disposable plastic bags and substituting them with other types of disposable bags is unlikely to improve environmental outcomes," said Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources, on Tuesday (March 6) during the debate on her ministry's budget.

Every type of disposable bag, be it a bio-degradable bag or a paper bag, affects the environment, whether it is through carbon emissions, heavy water use or significant land clearance, Dr Khor said, citing a study commissioned by the National Environment Agency (NEA), which comes under her ministry.

She was replying to a question from Ms Cheng Li Hui (Tampines GRC), who had asked if the ministry would consider imposing a levy on plastic bags to reduce their excessive consumption.

The study had looked at the environmental impact of various disposables, including carrier bags. One of its key findings is that the regular use of a reusable bag over a year could replace the use of 125 single-use plastic bags, or 52 single-use paper bags.

Similarly, the study also found that the regular use of one reusable container over five years could replace the use of 3,650 single-use plates.

The study, led by National University of Singapore scientist Kua Harn Wei, found that despite the claims of retailers here who offer biodegradable bags as greener alternatives to plastic bags, both types of bags required the same amount of resources to make.

Both also have similar environmental impacts when incinerated.

"The study concluded that consumers can generally reduce their environmental impact by using reusable bags and food containers instead of disposables," said Dr Khor.

In Singapore, waste is incinerated and not left in landfills to degrade.

The excessive use of plastic bags was a concern also raised by Non-Constituency MP Dennis Tan of the Workers' Party.

The latest available figure for the number of plastic bags used in Singapore dates back to 2011, when the Singapore Environment Council did a study to show that three billion plastic bags were used that year.

But the figure could be much higher.

NEA figures show that some 822,200 tonnes of plastic waste were generated in 2016, of which only 7 per cent was recycled. Of the 762,700 tonnes of remaining plastic waste, plastic bags constituted about a fifth. The average weight of a single-use plastic bag such as those distributed at supermarkets is 5.5g. This means that 27 billion bags - nine times more than SEC's 2011 estimate - were not recycled.

BETTER TO TACKLE USE OF DISPOSABLES

Dr Khor noted that plastic bags are necessary for responsible and hygienic bagging of waste in Singapore's moist, tropical climate.

"In Singapore, a more sustainable approach is to tackle the excessive consumption of all types of disposables," she added, saying her ministry is working with stakeholders to reduce the excessive use of plastic bags and disposables such as single-use food containers.

For example, Dr Khor said food delivery company Foodpanda is working on a trial where customers can opt out of disposable cutlery use when ordering food.

Last year, environmental group Zero Waste Singapore launched an innovative Bring Your Own Singapore campaign to incentivise consumers to take along their own reusable bags or containers with them to eateries and supermarkets to earn discounts or free gifts.

Other retailers, however, have been imposing plastic bag levies within their premises.

For example, Japanese lifestyle brand Miniso said usage dropped 75 per cent after it imposed a 10-cent charge per plastic bag in April.

On its part, the NEA will explore ways to reduce the use of disposables.

For a start, hawkers at new hawker centres managed by NEA or by NEA-appointed managing agents - such as those in Our Tampines Hub, Pasir Ris Central and Yishun Park - have already been prohibited from providing disposables to patrons who dine in.

PACKAGING WASTE

In line with Singapore's Zero Waste vision, Dr Khor also outlined plans to reduce packaging waste.

The Republic produced about 557,000 tonnes of packaging waste last year - a third of household waste - enough to fill more than 1,000 Olympic-size swimming pools.

Dr Khor noted that the voluntary Singapore Packaging Agreement has cumulatively reduced almost 39,000 tonnes of packaging waste since its inception in 2007.

She said: "We will continue to support such efforts while holistically tackling the broader issue upstream by reducing all types of packaging waste at source.

"By 2021, we will mandate that businesses report on the type and amount of packaging they put on the market and their plans for reduction. We will start industry consultations this year."

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