SINGAPORE: In studying the best way to charge for disposable plastic bags, the Government will take into account the local context, including the current practice of reusing disposable carrier bags for rubbish.
It will also look into any possible impact of a charge on more vulnerable groups such as low-income households and consult the Ministry of Social and Family Development and social service agencies on possible mitigation measures, said Senior Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment Amy Khor in Parliament on Monday (May 10).
She was responding to questions from Members of Parliament on charging for single-use plastic bags.
Dr Khor said that in 2020, Singapore threw away about 200,000 tons of disposables, such as carrier bags and takeaway containers – enough to fill about 400 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
READ: Single-use plastic bags have ‘lower environmental footprint’ compared to paper and cotton bags in cities like Singapore: NTU study
“Excessive consumption of disposables is unsustainable and can be avoided if all stakeholders work together to change mindsets, habits and behaviours,” she said, adding that the Citizens’ Workgroup on Reducing the Excessive Consumption of Disposables has recommended implementing a charge for single-use carrier bags.
She noted that many jurisdictions overseas, including Hong Kong, Ireland and the United Kingdom, have implemented disposable carrier bags charge with “positive” results.
Singapore has also experimented with plastic bag charges. For instance, last year’s year-long No Plastic Bag initiative at 25 supermarkets and convenience stores saved more than 15 million plastic bags.
“In developing an appropriate model for disposable carrier bag charge at supermarkets, the National Environment Agency will study overseas examples and consult key stakeholders and members of the public,” she said.
This includes the amount to be charged, whether the charge will apply per transaction or per bag, from the first or third bag, the implementation timeline and how the proceeds will be used.
Other than the practice of using disposable plastic bags for trash and the impact on vulnerable groups, the ministry will also consult supermarket operators on matters such as applying the charge to home deliveries and training supermarket employees to minimise packaging use.
It aims to complete its consultations by the end of the year.
Plastic waste in Singapore is either recycled or sent to waste energy plants for incineration, and not landfilled directly.
"As the environmental benefits of using biodegradable plastic bags do not apply in Singapore, we have no plans to encourage their use over conventional plastic bags," said Dr Khor.
“Every type of packaging material results in different environmental impacts, such as carbon emissions and water consumption.
“Rather than substituting plastic disposables with disposables made of other materials, such as biodegradable plastics, the more sustainable approach is to reduce the excessive use of disposables.”
However, Dr Khor noted that the charge alone is “not a silver bullet”. Enhancing public education and awareness, "behavioural nudges", as well as working with producers and retailers to reduce packaging use upstream are also important, she said.