The Straits Times: Supermarts may start charging for plastic bags

The Singapore Environment Council is studying options in cutting usage of plastic bags, the findings will be collated into a white paper. The Straits Times reports.

Supermarts may start charging for plastic bags

Options to reduce plastic bag use being considered

 Shoppers may need to pay for plastic bags in the future, if a proposal being studied is adopted.

The Singapore Environment Council (SEC) is studying ways to cut down on the excessive use of plastic bags here.

One of the options being considered is for supermarkets to start charging for plastic bags daily or on alternate days, The Straits Times has learnt.

The proposal involves provision shops too, and may also include food outlets and hawker stalls.

The study, which began this month, is expected to be concluded by June.

The findings are expected to be used to formulate a White Paper on the use of plastic bags in Singapore.

The SEC is a non-government organisation that facilitates and coordinates environmental causes here.

The Straits Times understands that a majority of the supermarkets here are not opposed to the idea of charging for plastic bags. But they would like to see the authorities put it into legislation before making such a move.

Responding to queries from The Straits Times, the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources said it is ‘aware of and supports the SEC’s efforts to carry out studies with retailers on the possibility of reducing plastic bag usage’.

The issue of whether retailers should charge for plastic bags has been debated for years.

But only a handful of retailers here – Swedish furniture giant Ikea being one of the first – have made shoppers pay for plastic bags.

Next month, Hong Kong casual-wear brand Bossini will become the first clothing retailer here to stop giving out bags free. These will cost 10 cents each.

Critics say Singapore has been slow in implementing rules curbing plastic bag usage, which are already in place in Asian cities such as Hong Kong and Taiwan.

In July 2009, Hong Kong legislated that registered retailers are no longer allowed to provide free plastic shopping bags, and they must charge their customers an environmental levy for each plastic shopping bag they ask for.

Last year, Malaysia launched a nationwide campaign that saw all hypermarkets, supermarkets and Petronas petrol stations charging for plastic bags on Saturdays. Shoppers have to pay 20 sen (S$0.08) for a plastic shopping bag.

SEC executive director Jose Raymond, however, feels that the bigger retailers should take the initiative to implement such measures, instead of waiting for the Government to make the move.

He said: ‘The major retailers should not be waiting for the Government to formulate a policy on whether they should be charging for plastic bags.’

Citing the example of some supermarkets here which took shark’s fin off their shelves without any legislation, Mr Raymond said retailers ‘should also do the same for the plastic bag issue if they do believe the issue is one which requires action’.

He pointed out that Singapore’s situation is also different from that in Hong Kong.

Here, it is mandatory by law to bag rubbish before disposal. That may explain why shoppers tend to ask for plastic bags, he said.

Environmental consultant Eugene Tay said plans to charge for plastic bags are unlikely to go down well with consumers here, especially those from the low- and middle-income group.

Hence, retailers may be deterred from taking the lead.

He suggested: ‘Supermarkets can offer discounts to the lower- and middle-income groups on daily household essentials like oil and sugar if they start charging for the use of plastic bags.’

Another incentive would be to offer free eco-bags to these groups he added.

Despite the absence of legislation, the Bring Your Own Bag Day drive has steadily gained momentum in recent years.

The campaign – initiated by the SEC and the National Environment Agency in 2007 – encourages shoppers to bring their own reusable bags to supermarkets to bag their purchases.

What began as a monthly campaign held on the first Wednesday of every month has now evolved into a weekly affair.

Some retailers have also stepped up efforts to educate consumers.

In conjunction with Earth Day on Sunday, NTUC FairPrice launched a week-long campaign to urge shoppers to bring their own bags. The supermarket chain is hoping to save at least 100,000 plastic bags in one week.

Dairy Farm Singapore – which owns Cold Storage, Market Place, 7-Eleven, Giant, Shop N Save and Guardian – said it is training all checkout counter staff to encourage customers to use or purchase eco-bags.

Image taken from Humboldt State University


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