Charging for plastic bags a tough call


Jose Raymond

Published: 4:01 AM, July 10, 2013
Updated: 4:00 AM, July 11, 2013

Executive Director, Singapore Environment Council

The Singapore Environment Council (SEC) shares Ms Rachel Wong’s concern, in “Tougher measures needed to curtail use of plastic bags” (July 8), about the long-term sustainability of plastic bag use.

We agree that it is important to eliminate the wasteful use and improper disposal of plastic bags here. A few retailers, such as IKEA and some eco-stores, have implemented such strategies and have seen a significant drop in the number of plastic bags given to consumers each year.

While charging for plastic bags, which is a practice in many countries and legislated by law, may reduce the overall use of plastic bags in Singapore, we also recognise the need for a solution that is environmentally sustainable, economically viable, culturally appropriate and socially inclusive.

A blanket nationwide strategy such as implementing a charge for plastic bags may impose an additional burden on the household budgets of low-income groups, or ignore the fact that most households legitimately require a certain number of plastic bags for the hygienic disposal of garbage.

Additionally, placing a levy on plastic bags may not take into account wider issues, such as a pervasive culture of consumerism, the convenience barrier to changing behavioural practices and the overall waste management infrastructure here.

We agree with Ms Wong that people need to be aware of the reasons to reduce the use of plastic bags.

To arrive at a solution that takes these daily realities into account, the SEC has embarked on a research project to gain a comprehensive and culturally-relevant overview of the behavioural, economic and environmental dimensions of plastic bag use in Singapore.

Involving surveys of over 2,500 participants, focus group discussions with retailers and members of the public and interviews with environmental and economic experts, this research will be incorporated into a White Paper that proposes possible long-term solutions to this issue.

The results and recommendations of the White Paper will be ready in September.