Price of curbing plastic bag use

Audrey Tan Straits Times 27 Sep 17;

Supermarket shoppers may have to start paying for plastic bags next year, if Singapore's four main supermarket chains - FairPrice, Dairy Farm Group, Prime Supermarket and Sheng Siong - agree on implementing a plastic bag surcharge.

The discussions, reported by The Sunday Times this week, came about after a green group called on the Government and businesses last year to introduce a levy on the use of plastic bags, mainly as a disincentive to shoppers who use them.

A tax is not the first strategy aiming to cut plastic bag use. There have been other incentive-based schemes, although their success is debatable.

Some 822,200 tonnes of plastic waste was generated last year, but only 7 per cent was recycled. Non-recycled plastic bags, whether biodegradable or not, are all incinerated. So, while it is a pity that disincentives have to be used to get people to recognise the environmental impact, it is necessary.

FairPrice has had, since 2007, an incentive-based scheme offering customers 10 cents off a minimum spend of $10 if they take along their own bag. It saved the supermarket 10.1 million plastic bags in 2015, it said.

Still, any shopper can attest to how freely cashiers at most supermarkets give out plastic bags: Individual items are sometimes bagged separately, some are double-bagged, and even items that come with handles, such as rolls of toilet paper, are bagged again.

Plastic bags are useful for bagging food waste that can dirty chutes. But key to the issue is the sheer number of bags distributed. Many households will find that they have more bags than needed. The right recycling habits, such as separating food waste from other recyclables, could further reduce this number.

A plastic bag tax would serve to curb usage by encouraging people to take along their own bags.

In April, Japanese lifestyle brand Miniso began charging customers 10 cents for every plastic bag, and usage has dropped by as much as 75 per cent.

A Straits Times online poll showed that more than 70 per cent of almost 4,000 respondents supported a plastic bag tax. A levy may just be the kick consumers need to change entrenched habits.

Audrey Tan

How to dispose trash down rubbish chutes if there are no plastic bags, ask readers
CHEN JINGWEN AsiaOne 26 Sep 17;

It looks like Singaporeans still want their supermarket plastic bags for free - and for a good reason.

Here in Singapore, plastic bags are mostly reused to contain the daily garbage that's discarded down high-rise rubbish chutes and some people also reuse them to carry items.

Some 30-odd Facebook users who responded to AsiaOne's article on whether major supermarkets here should follow the example of some countries to charge shoppers for the use of a bag, felt they should be given away free since many people are reusing them to dispose trash.

Facebook user Harry Yip said: "My family uses those thin plastic bags from the supermarkets as garbage bags for food waste, packaging waste, vaccum bag and sweeping floor waste, etc. One can only go to any bin centre and see that these bags are extensively used as garbage bags."

Another user, Ah Hong, is against a ban on supermarket plastic bags as the rubbish chute will be "dirtier and smelly" if people just discard rubbish without sealing them in a bag first. Those living on lower floors will suffer if this happens, he added.

Also against a ban or levy, Esther Lee said: "No doubt there are lots of plastic waste but what is the percentage contributed from supermarket plastic bags? The amount of trash may likely come from industrial waste, buildings being pulled down, food courts and hawker centres using plastic disposables. Singapore should lead by example and not always a blind follower."

KM Chia agreed: "We must examine our whole waste management system, and make better change. Plastic bags have been recycled in Singapore as part of our waste management so please don't make the change for the sake of changing."

For another user, Eng Seng Lim, the problem lies in the rubbish chute system that is being used in HDB flats and apartments across Singapore.

In a comment on AsiaOne's Facebook page, he attributed the unavoidable use of bags on the rubbish chute system and the distant location of the bin centre. He added that the authorities should come up with a better way to transfer waste from a residential unit to a common bin centre more effectively.

Two Facebook users think the charging of supermarket bags will drive more people to shop online.

Another two feel that supermarkets should restrict the use of thinner plastic bags used for containing vegetables, fruits and meats instead as they are usually discarded and not recycled after use.

One user highlighted a method to dispose of compost waste in Singapore, which is currently being used in some Western countries - to install a waste food disposer at all kitchen sinks in HDB flats.

Such disposers are used to grind kitchen food waste into tiny particles so that it can be flushed down the water waste system together with the rest of the sewage.

While most highlighted the lack of feasible waste disposal methods in Singapore, some supported extreme measures of a ban and a charge on bags to make people cultivate environment friendly habits.

Said Tong Bn: "I can bring my bags."