Ikea stops providing disposable plastic bags

Customers have to use their own or buy reusable ones from furniture chain
David Ee and Jessica Lim Straits Times 24 Mar 13;

Furniture giant Ikea has decided that it is plastic not-so-fantastic. From yesterday, the Swedish company became the first retailer in Singapore to stop providing disposable plastic bags.

This leaves customers with two choices: either bring their own bag, or buy a reusable one for 60 or 90 cents, depending on the size.

The reusable bags used to cost 90 cents and $1.20, but prices have been cut to placate customers disgruntled with the new move.

But this is nothing new for the furniture chain. Its stores in Britain have had a no-disposable plastic bag policy since 2007. There are also no plastic bags in its stores in America, Canada, Australia, Malaysia and Thailand.

Still, is the inconvenience to customers here worth it?

Given Singapore's small size, three billion plastic bags are used every year compared to one trillion around the world. That is 0.003 per cent.

And bags here are incinerated at temperatures of 1,000 deg C, which stops the release of harmful dioxins, said National University of Singapore Associate Professor Ting Yen Peng, a chemical and biomolecular engineer .

But it still adds carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, leading to global warming, and the bags, which take 1,000 years to disintegrate naturally, pose dangers to marine life when they get into the sea.

Ikea Singapore's sustainability manager, Mr Marcus Tay, told The Sunday Times that the latest decision was made easier after customers reacted positively when the company started charging for bags - five cents for a small one; 10 cents for the large size - in 2007.

"There was minimal resistance... This showed us that Singaporeans are positive about moving towards more sustainable living," he said.

Since charging for disposable plastic bags, Ikea's two stores in Alexandra and Tampines managed to save on 18 million bags, he added.

But Ikea stands alone in its quest to stop Singapore from relying on the ubiquitous disposable plastic bag.

Last year, clothing chain Bossini began charging 10 cents for each bag, one of a handful of retailers here that do not hand them out free.

But supermarket chains The Sunday Times spoke to plan to stick with the status quo. Dairy Farm Singapore, which runs the Giant and Cold Storage chains, said that shoppers still expect to be provided free plastic bags.

An NTUC FairPrice spokesman added that customer habits will take time to change.

But there may be more to banning plastic bags than just helping Singapore to go green.

Said Mr Simon Bell, director of strategy at global brand consulting firm Landor Associates: "A brand with a green cause is often held in higher esteem than a brand without one in today's world. Consumers are... often choosing brands with a strong cause over others, to feel like they are 'doing good' in a way while they shop."

Shoppers here remain divided though.

Said compliance executive Mark Chew, 33: "It's a duty for the shop to provide a bag (free). I don't care if it's plastic or not."

But Mr Desmond Pereira, a 61-year-old warehouse manager who carries a cloth bag with him, feels there is little excuse in not chipping in to help the environment.

"Everybody has bags at home (they can bring). Why is it inconvenient?"