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An idea to charge for plastic bags on weekends

SINGAPORE — Wading again into what it calls a “very polarising environmental issue” here, the Singapore Environment Council (SEC) yesterday floated the idea of charging for supermarket plastic bags on weekends after a six-month outreach and education effort next year.

SINGAPORE — Wading again into what it calls a “very polarising environmental issue” here, the Singapore Environment Council (SEC) yesterday floated the idea of charging for supermarket plastic bags on weekends after a six-month outreach and education effort next year.

Backed by survey findings on how households obtain and reuse plastic bags, the proposal was one of 10 made by the SEC, that also included bins with second-hand reusable bags placed near cashier counters for shoppers who have forgotten to take their own bags to the supermarket. One in three consumers here waste some or all the plastic bags they take for free at supermarkets, the SEC found from questions posed to 2,500 households that were tagged to a Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources survey last year.

This was derived from the percentage of respondents who threw bags away after taking them home (6.3 per cent) and those who store more than 20 plastic bags at home at a time.

Nine in 10 respondents said they use plastic bags to contain general waste. The top reasons for not using reusable bags were: That plastic bags were provided anyway; making purchases unplanned and not having reusable bags at hand; forgetting to take them when shopping; and needing plastic bags to dispose of waste.

The SEC’s position paper — consisting of survey findings and its recommendations to reduce wastage — hopes to spark a “national discourse on changing consumer behaviour” on the issue, said SEC Executive Director Jose Raymond.

Consumers here used about three billion plastic bags in 2011.

While it is mindful not to impose extra financial burden on low-income households, or compromise competitiveness of businesses, the council aims to roll out a “Bring Your Own Bag Every Day” education programme next year. Mr Raymond said supermarket chains were receptive to the idea of charging for plastic bags on weekends — when it is presumably less inconvenient to take one’s own bag along to shop — but wanted all major players to first be on board. Asked how much retailers could charge, he suggested 10 cents per plastic bag.

Consumers like Mr Irvin Tan, 31, said he was supportive of charging for plastic bags. “We have to figure out the best way to communicate the message. If this carrot/stick model is going to teach people that plastic bags are used at a price, then I’m for it,” said the entrepreneur.

But Consumers Association of Singapore Executive Director Seah Seng Choon called for more education, and said offering rebates is the “more friendly way”. “The effort to save the environment is commendable. It is better if an incentive is given, instead of imposing a charge,” he said.

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