Singapore shoppers take 820 million plastic bags from supermarkets each year: Study

Aqil Haziq Mahmud Channel NewsAsia 31 Jul 18;

SINGAPORE: Shoppers in Singapore take 820 million plastic bags from supermarkets each year – an average of 146 plastic bags for each person, a study commissioned by the Singapore Environment Council (SEC) has found.

These 820 million bags can cover the land area of 126 Gardens by the Bay, and the petroleum used in their production can power 1.9 million car rides across the length of the island and back, the SEC said.

For context, each person in England used 133 plastic bags in 2013, when major supermarkets there gave out more than 7.4 billion bags. This was before large retailers in the UK were required by law in October 2015 to charge for plastic bags they gave out.

The use of single-use plastic bags declined drastically after the charge was introduced, with 2.1 billion bags sold between April 2016 and April 2017, according to the UK government website.

SEC chairman Isabella Huang-Loh said told reporters on Tuesday (Jul 31) that plastic bag usage in Singapore has "quantumly grown" over the years.

"We started three decades ago trying to educate people to go hygienic with plastic bags," she said, referring to campaigns that encouraged the bagging of waste before disposal down the chute.

It went down so well that over time people became too enthusiastic, she added, and they started taking more than what they really needed.

The study, conducted between December 2017 and May 2018, is based on online surveys from 1,003 respondents based in Singapore.

"The results of the study show that there are certain gaps in the plastic ecosystem,” Ms Huang-Loh said.

“Key outcomes must be plastic reduction at every segment of the plastic ecosystem for individuals, businesses, communities, government agencies and statutory boards,” she added, pointing out that the study will help focus public education aimed at reducing plastic use.

The study found that 49 per cent of respondents use three or more plastic bags every time they visit the supermarket, including 14 per cent who use six or more bags on each trip. Only 15 per cent bring their own bags for their shopping.

When it comes to demographics, the elderly are likely to use more plastic bags. Almost a quarter of those aged 60 and above said they take six or more plastic bags per shopping trip, while only 6 per cent bring their own bags. Women were also almost twice as likely to bring a reusable bag as compared to men.

When asked about their preferred use for the plastic bags they have taken, the majority of respondents said they use it to bag and dispose of waste, while 11 per cent said they reuse them. Only 2 per cent said they recycle the bags.


While the plastic bag charge seems to have worked for the UK, SEC executive director Jen Teo said reducing usage here has to start with education as it will "drive longer term benefits in terms of behavioural change".

"In some of the countries where the charge has been introduced, there has been some reduction in plastic bags for a period of time, but over the longer term the use of plastic bags will then increase," she explained.

For instance, in Taiwan, Ms Huang-Loh said the charge worked very well for the first two years, but usage went up again as people "got used to paying".

"Instead of going so far into draconian measures right now, try reduction first," she added. "Once we ask people to reduce, and once it bottoms out or there's absolutely no way it's going there, then we have to review the whole process."

NTUC FairPrice director of corporate communications and brand Jonas Kor said the supermarket's stance on charging for plastic bags remains unchanged.

"Our stand is very much that charging should come about only with legislation," he said. "But the focus we have is very much public education to get people to be aware of consumption habits."


With supermarkets holding off on what some environmentalists deem a necessary tax on plastic bags, and the Government preferring alternative approaches to reduction, SEC has announced a new campaign to reduce plastic bags.

The campaign, themed Two is Enough, will encourage consumers to only take two plastic bags on each shopping trip. It will also involve call-to-action measures like training cashiers, consumer education and eco-friendly tips.

SEC will also target specific demographic groups highlighted in the study to make messaging more effective.

For example, the campaign will be conducted in a number of languages to cater to those aged above 60, while SEC will work with reusable bag retailers to come up with "cool-looking bags men can carry in pockets", Ms Huang-Loh said.

Apart from plastic bags, the study also identified another major source of plastic waste. It revealed that 467 million polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles and 473 million polypropylene (PP) plastic disposables are used in Singapore each year.

This works out to between one and three PET bottles and PP disposable items per person per week. PET bottles are commonly used for drinks, sauces and marinades, while PP disposables include takeaway containers.

To that end, SEC will launch another campaign, themed One Less Plastic, to encourage consumers to use one fewer item in each disposable plastic category, ranging from cutlery to water bottles.

This campaign will involve call-to-action measures like incentives for Bring Your Own (BYO) initiatives and marketing exposure for eco-friendly eateries with sustainable practices.

Both campaigns will be launched online, on social and traditional media, and at points-of-sale starting next month till the end of next year.

SEC is also working with organisations to help educate consumers on reducing plastic waste. Among the first to come on board are NTUC FairPrice and Coca-Cola.

Ms Teo hopes the new campaign will prove more effective than previous BYO campaigns with the introduction of specific targets in the call-to-action.

"We've got to move on to much harder programmes that will really bring a more meaningful drive, not just 'I don't get this this particular day'," Ms Huang-Loh said, referring to once-a-week BYO programmes.


While the campaign's first phase will focus on reducing, its next two phases will target recycling and downstream innovation.

For recycling, SEC will educate consumers on why, what and how to recycle across various channels. As for downstream innovation, SEC will raise awareness on plastic afterlife and support closed-loop ecosystems for plastic recycling.

This comes as the study highlighted the reasons behind Singapore's stagnant plastic recycling rate. Based on survey responses, these include inconvenience and not being fully aware of the types of recyclable plastic.

In turn, the study also found that the recycling industry faced challenges like labour constraints, a low demand for recycled goods and lack of investment in automation technology.

This was based on in-depth interviews with nine stakeholders ranging from academia to industry experts.

The study’s results will be incorporated into a more extensive research report on the use of plastic by consumers and the waste ecosystem in Singapore, which will be made available at the SEC Conference Day on Aug 30.

On that day, SEC will host consumers, businesses and downstream stakeholders like waste companies to build a plastic ecosystem and “discuss and identify a clearer focus”.

“We should take advantage of available innovation or seek new innovation to create a downstream market for recycling plastic in Singapore,” Ms Huang-Loh said, noting new technologies to convert plastic to fuel, and the use of recycled plastic for 3D printing.

“We need to address extended producers’ responsibility at the upstream too.”

At least 1.76 billion plastic items used each year; non-profit to launch 'two is enough' campaign
WONG PEI TING Today Online 1 Aug 18;

SINGAPORE — People in Singapore use at least 1.76 billion supermarket plastic bags, plastic bottles and plastic disposables in a year, and nearly half of 1,003 people surveyed use three or more plastic bags each time they visit the supermarket.

Armed with these and other findings from the latest survey it commissioned with Deloitte & Touche Enterprise Risk Services, the Singapore Environment Council (SEC) plans to urge consumers to stop at two.

The non-profit organisation will launch a "two is enough" campaign in August – starting at supermarket chain NTUC FairPrice – to encourage shoppers to use no more than two bags each time they go to the supermarket, and to use one fewer plastic item per day.

"The key is to choose reusable items – bring your own bag when shopping, avoid items packed in (take-away) containers, use your own cutlery when taking food away, and take a refillable water bottle with you instead of buying bottled water," said SEC executive director Jen Teo at a press conference on Tuesday (July 31).

The survey, which will be incorporated into a more extensive research report into consumer use of plastic and the waste ecosystem in Singapore, polled 1,003 individuals here online from Dec last year to May this year.

It found that 820 million plastic bags from supermarkets were consumed each year – a figure which does not include plastic bags taken from other shops and retail outlets.

Consumers in Singapore also use a whopping 467 million polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles each year – or one to three per person per week. They use 473 million polypropylene disposable items including take-away containers each year – or one to three items per person per week.

Asked if the latest campaign to get consumers to use less plastic and disposables would make enough of an impact, other environmentalists said it was not dissimilar to other ground-up advocacy efforts.

They questioned if the impact would be long-lasting and some urged the Government to impose a levy on single-use plastic items.

Ms Aarti Giri, founder of advocacy group Plastic-Lite Singapore, estimated that the 820 million supermarket plastic bags used a year could make up only 30 to 40 per cent of the total, as plastic bags are also given out at hawker centres, wet markets and shopping malls, she said.

"Raising awareness is uphill battle. It is easy to slide down as well…What about after (the campaign)? (The efforts have) to go hand in hand, top-down with bottom-up," she said.

A signal from the authorities, such as in the form of a tax on single-use plastic, would enable the message to ring louder, she added.

Consumers "are not going to be happy" but the authorities can explain why such a tax is needed, and "people will change their lifestyle accordingly", Ms Giri said. "To get people to be more proactive – to reduce, reuse – we need to act on both sides."

Businesses could also impose a charge for takeaway items or install more water coolers in malls or parks to reduce the public's dependence on bottled water, she noted.

Member of Parliament for Nee Soon group representation constituency Lee Bee Wah said the SEC's campaign will be a good start.

"It gives people a concrete and achievable goal," she said. But despite past efforts, "we still use more plastic than many countries including Malaysia, Australia and China", she said, pointing to the need to do more about the issue of plastic waste.

An estimated eight million tonnes of plastic end up in the world's oceans each year, causing harm to the environment and marine animals and potentially ending up in the food chain.

On why the SEC is not presently calling for a plastic levy, SEC chairman Isabella Loh told reporters: "We have to bring change about only with co-operation. We cannot be in people's face and say 'thou shalt not have' or 'you have to reduce using 25 cents or 35 cents'. It is draconian for now."

The SEC is studying Taiwan's approach to a plastic levy, and Ms Loh said: "It went very well the first two years, and then it went back up again… because people got used to paying (the levy). Even worse, the plastic bags got thicker. So now they have to go and legislate for thinner plastic bags."

NTUC FairPrice's involvement in SEC's campaign will be part of its Plastic Bag Management Programme that replaces its existing Green Rewards scheme, which gave out a total of S$4 million in rebates between 2007 and 2017 to shoppers who brought their own bags.

Mr Jonas Kor, its director of corporate communications, said the rewards programme was phased out as its results had "plateaued". When the scheme started in 2007, 1.3 million plastic bags were saved. Savings last year grew to 11.5 million bags, up from 10.9 million bags saved in 2016.

"Charging (for) plastic bags can only come about with legislation," Mr Kor added.

The SEC study also found that women were almost twice as likely as men to take along a reusable bag to shop. Only 10 per cent of male respondents indicated that they used their own bags, compared to 18 per cent of the female respondents.

Ms Loh said the SEC is intending to work with designers to come up with a reusable bag design that men will more likely adopt.

Nearly one in four respondents who were above the age of 60 took six or more plastic bags on trips to the supermarket – a higher proportion than younger respondents.

Nearly one in three consumers said they threw away used PET bottles, with the remainder reusing or recycling the bottles.

As for polypropylene disposable items, about half the respondents said they reused the items and one in five said they recycle the items. One in four respondents said they threw the items away.

Singapore goes through 1.76 billion plastic items a year, recycles less than 20%
Jose Hong Straits Times 31 Jul 18;

SINGAPORE - Singapore uses at least 1.76 billion plastic items a year - or almost one plastic item per person per day - but less than 20 per cent is recycled, according to survey results announced by the Singapore Environment Council (SEC) on Tuesday (July 31).

In a survey of more than 1,000 people online, the non-governmental organisation found that people in Singapore take 820 million plastic bags yearly from supermarkets.

Only 2 per cent of these supermarket plastic bags were recycled by consumers. Two-thirds were used for the disposal of waste.

The six-month SEC study, undertaken with the help of global consultancy Deloitte, also found that Singapore used 467 million polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles a year and 473 million plastic disposable items like takeaway containers.

Less than 20 per cent of these items are recycled.

The study did not include plastic bags given out by places other than supermarkets.

A council spokesman said: "We wanted to measure something people could accurately recall and measure. Most people can estimate the number of plastic bags they use on each supermarket shopping trip, while it may be harder for them to recall how many bags they use from all sources in a week or month."

When asked about how this survey results contrast with previous estimates that Singapore goes through 13 plastic bags a day, SEC executive director Jen Teo said that the council's estimate was conservative.

"We wanted to be granular and focus on the most easily measurable usage," she said.

A survey of 2,000 people in March by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Singapore found that 80 per cent of the respondents said they would support a plastic bag levy.

Speaking about the SEC survey findings, a WWF spokesman said: "There's still a huge dark hole when it comes to the plastic bags given out by other retailers. There aren't only supermarkets, but also bubble tea shops or bakeries that give multiple plastic bags."

The SEC plans to launch a campaign to educate the public to use fewer plastic items, and will work with partners such as NTUC FairPrice and Coca-Cola.

Ms Teo said: "SEC is calling on every individuals in Singapore to use one less plastic item per day. We intend to encourage shoppers to use not more than two plastic bags per trip. "

Biggest local supermarket chains say plastic bag use has dropped
FairPrice and Dairy Farm say they saved millions of bags last year
JOSE HONG The New Paper 2 Aug 18;

Even as the latest poll numbers show nearly half of all plastic items used each year are supermarket plastic bags, the largest chains here are reporting a decrease in their use.

NTUC FairPrice said it saved 11.5 million bags last year - an increase from 10.9 million in 2016 - from customers bringing their own bags. It said it aimed to triple the number of plastic bags saved to about 30 million a year, while ending yesterday its practice of giving 10 cents to customers who have their own bags.

Dairy Farm - which manages Cold Storage, Giant and Guardian stores - said its customers used nine million fewer plastic bags last year than in 2016.

Single-use supermarket plastic bags contributed 820 million to the 1.76 billion plastic items used yearly in Singapore, said the Singapore Environment Council on Tuesday.

FairPrice corporate communications and brand director Jonas Kor said previously its rebate would be scrapped as the number of bags saved has stagnated in the past three years, stopping a significant upward trend since the Green Rewards Scheme started in 2007.

"We hit a plateau and need to rethink how we manage plastic bags," he said.

Mr Kor said the chain would aim for further reductions through "a more holistic and comprehensive approach".

This could include training for cashiers on packing groceries more efficiently and customer education.

Customer behaviour is also the focus for Dairy Farm.

Its spokesman said: "Education on the importance of sustainability and environmental benefits of using fewer plastic bags is key to encouraging consumers in Singapore to embrace a 'no plastic bag culture'. "

Sheng Siong said there was no change in the number of bags used last year compared with the previous few years.

The three chains own the majority of supermarkets here.

A Sheng Siong spokesman said besides encouraging shoppers to use fewer bags, it is reviewing operating procedures and speaking with workers to understand the challenges of reducing plastic bag use.

Education on the importance of sustainability and environmental benefits of using fewer plastic bags is key to encouraging consumers in Singapore to embrace a ‘no plastic bag culture’.
Dairy Farm spokesman
A World Wide Fund for Nature Singapore spokesman said: "It is encouraging that some supermarkets are reporting a drop in plastic bags used, but businesses have to take more responsibility to reduce demand.

"For example, a levy has been proven to work in many markets around the world. A levy would send the message that there is a price that plastics come at - and that we must account for that price."

Few retailers in Singapore charge for plastic bags. Those that do include Miniso and Bossini.