Ikea's 'pay for plastic bags' drive cuts usage in Singapore by 5.3 million

Furniture giant sees 80% drop since April last year; other retailers are still holding out
Tania Tan, Straits Times 19 Apr 08;

LEADING the charge against the plastic-bag scourge has paid off for one retailer here.

Swedish furniture store Ikea has clocked an over 80 per cent reduction in plastic-bag use since it stopped giving out free carriers last year.

It was the first retailer here to make such a bold move, with others preferring instead to adopt a wait-and-see approach.

The move was designed to cut down on the more than six million plastic bags the company's two Singapore stores gave out annually. Despite initial fears, there was no uproar from customers.

'The initial expected controversy was simply not there,' said Mr Lars Svensson, Ikea's country marketing manager. 'I think sometimes there is not enough faith in the maturity of Singapore consumers.'

Since last April, Ikea customers have bought about 960,000 plastic bags. The store used to give out 6.3 million bags annually.

'It's a compelling figure,' said Mr Svensson.

The chain's two outlets began charging between five and 10 cents for a bag last April, with all proceeds going to the World Wildlife Fund to combat haze.

The funds are used to help develop sustainable livelihoods for villagers in the Riau province of Sumatra, who rely on slash-and-burn methods to clear agricultural land. Projects include the harvest and sale of wild honey produced in Indonesian forests.

Singapore uses 2.5 billion plastic bags a year - about 625 per person annually.

As the country incinerates its rubbish, and as plastic bags are made from oil, burning them releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, contributing to global warming.

Attempts to cut down the staggering amount of bags used have been met with mixed success.

Last year, the National Environment Agency (NEA) launched the Bring Your Own Bag Day campaign, which encouraged shoppers to donate 10 cents for each plastic bag at participating retailers every first Wednesday of the month.

The retailers reported 20per cent to 80 per cent reductions in the number of plastic bags handed out on those days.

Figures for the total number of bags used last year were unavailable, said the NEA. 'We will let the retail industry decide how fast and how far they want to carry on with the campaign,' it added.

Major retailers, however, do not seem to be budging on the plastic-bag issue.

Checks with NTUC FairPrice - the largest supermarket chain operator with more than 180 outlets - showed that disposable carriers will continue to be given out free of charge.

'Our policy will not change,' said a spokesman for the company. 'We do not intend to start charging for plastic bags.'

It is offering a 10-cent reward to customers who spend at least $10 and have their own carriers.

French hypermarket Carrefour has seen a 'slight drop' in the number of bags given out since the Bring Your Own Bag Day campaign started.

A common refrain from retailers is that consumers will hold out on their spending without free plastic bags.

'Changing mindsets takes time,' said a Carrefour spokesman.

But examples like Ikea suggest otherwise.

'I believe our numbers show that we ought to have more faith in what we can do together with consumers,' said MrSvensson.

In the meantime, some shops are taking matters into their own hands.

In February, co-operative shops at the National University of Singapore began charging customers 10 cents for each plastic bag. The money collected will be used to fund environmental projects.