Bag production 'an environmental worry'

3 billion bags used here last year, needing 37m kg of crude oil to make
Lee Jia Xin & Goh Shi Ting Straits Times 27 Apr 12;

PLASTIC bag production in Singapore has been singled out as an environmental worry because of the amount of crude oil it uses.

About 1.2kg of the precious resource goes into every kilogram of bags manufactured, according to a study by the Agency for Science, Technology and Research. Another problem is the amount of carbon dioxide released during the process, which contributes to global warming.

Overall, this kind of production is a cause for concern, the Singapore Environment Council (SEC) told The Straits Times.

Last year, Singaporeans used about 3billion plastic bags, which consume roughly 37 million kg of crude oil and 12 million kg of natural gas. SEC executive director Jose Raymond said it was focusing on reducing the number of bags wasted in Singapore, calling it a 'troubling symptom of our shift towards a throwaway culture'.

He advised consumers to keep a small, reusable bag for unplanned shopping trips, and a larger, durable one in the car for regular visits to the supermarkets.

Each year, more than onetrillion plastic bags are used around the world, less than 2 per cent of which are recycled.

The rest end up in landfills - where they can take up to 1,000 years to break down - or as litter. In Singapore, plastic bags are incinerated along with domestic waste at one of four plants, which meet strict air-emission standards.

One way to reduce plastic bag consumption could be for shops that dish them out to customers to start charging. But retailers and hawker-stall owners say they will not do so until the Government makes it mandatory in case they lose customers to rivals who dispense them for free.

Supermarket chain Sheng Siong Group said it would not charge because 'customers are bound to reject any extra costs to their purchases'.

Dairy Farm Singapore, which runs the Cold Storage, Shop N Save and Giant chains, said any move to reduce plastic bag usage should be approached in a pragmatic manner. 'It is not so simple to just charge for bags to deter people from using them as there are potential implications which need to be considered,' said a spokesman.

For instance, people re-use plastic bags for garbage disposal. Charging for bags may also lead to consumers seeking other sources of free plastic bags.

Smaller retailers were more vocal about what they saw as a move that may see them lose business. Sundry-shop owner Kew Eng Kwog, 73, said one customer chose his Toa Payoh shop over another because he is not 'stingy' about giving out bags. 'If I charge for plastic bags and others don't, I will lose business,' he said.

Shoppers also said they would take their business elsewhere if they were charged.

In a Straits Times poll of 100 Singaporeans - equally divided between young and old - about half said they would not pay. 'We buy things from them, so rightfully, we should be provided with plastic bags, as much as I would like to save the earth,' said housewife Sara Sivaganam, 50.

Mr Pat Stuart, an 81-year-old retiree, said: 'I think it's not fair to us; we still need plastic bags to throw our rubbish. We also need them for practical purposes, to separate dry foodstuff from wet ones.'

Even if retailers across the board start charging, that may not solve the problem of wastage, said 33-year-old tutor Lester Lee. 'People will get over the initial shock of having to pay for plastic bags and start buying them freely.'

Efforts have been made over the years to make consumers more environmentally conscious, with A Bring Your Own Bag Day rolled out by the SEC and National Environment Agency in 2007. The monthly campaign has progressed into a weekly affair, while some retailers have intensified moves to educate consumers.

Retail expert Sarah Lim, a senior lecturer at the Singapore Polytechnic, said retailers are not likely to support the pay system as they are 'torn between supporting the green calling and protecting the business'.

But she added that if consumers have to pay for plastic bags, 'they will be more conscious while shopping, and there will be less impulse buying'.

Additional reporting by Felicia Choo & Miranda Yeo