SINGAPORE: Local supermarket chains could impose a plastic bag charge if there is an industry-wide effort to implement one, they told Channel NewsAsia. This comes in response to a call from environmental group Zero Waste for the Government to introduce a levy on the use of plastic bags.
A spokesperson from the Dairy Farm group, which owns supermarket chains Cold Storage and Giant, said it would consider imposing a charge on plastic bags if there is a “collective industry approach”.
“With a more structured and concerted collective industry approach and without the risk of losing their competitive advantage, Dairy Farm group would seriously consider this proposal,” said the spokesperson.
The spokesperson added that efforts have been made at the group’s 700 stores – which include Guardian pharmacies and 7-Eleven outlets – in raising awareness to cut down on plastic bag usage.
“Reusable shopping bags are prominently placed near our checkout counters and our cashiers are trained to ask customers if they would like to use their own bags or encourage them to purchase the reusable bag instead of using the plastic bags,” said the spokesperson.
NTUC FairPrice is also not ruling out the possibility of having a plastic bag charge if the industry players decide to come together, said FairPrice’s CEO Seah Kian Peng.
“If the industry wants to do it, obviously I think we can. But I still think we need to consider the impact on the lower-income shoppers. It adds up,” said Mr Seah, adding that the supermarket currently prefers using an incentive scheme to reduce the use of plastic bags.
'WE NEED PLASTIC BAGS AS TRASH BAGS'
Channel NewsAsia reported on Wednesday that Zero Waste proposed that retailers impose a S$0.10 charge on big plastic bags and S$0.05 for smaller ones. Singapore goes through about 2.5 billion plastic bags every year, equivalent to about 450 per person, per year.
News of the proposal sparked discussion on Facebook, with a number of people defending their use of plastic bags.
“We need to clear garbage at home too. Can we just throw all the soaking food down the rubbish chute directly?“ said Jess Lee.
“Most dwellers use plastic bags to recycle as trash bag. Imagine them dumping trash directly into our rubbish chutes. It would be environmentally unhygienic,” Tay Yong Hong commented.
Mr Eugene Tay, executive director of Zero Waste, said the group has recommended some plastic bags used for carrying food without packaging, or frozen or chilled food, and prescription medicines to be exempt from the scheme.
“Residents can still use those plastic bags which are exempt from the charge to bag their refuse. If they need more, they can take it from the supermarket and pay for it,” he explained. “If there is a charge then people will start thinking about how can they reduce the plastic bags that they take.”
Mr Eugene Heng, chairman of the non-government organisation Waterways Watch Society, agreed. Mr Heng, who has organised clean-up sessions at Singapore's waterways for the last 19 years, said plastic bags are one of the most commonly found types of litter in Singapore waters.
“Plastic bags usually end up as litter and all these plastic bags have a detrimental impact on the environment. It damages marine life. We often have to save live fish caught in plastic bags,” he said.
“While we recognise that plastic bags are important in the Singapore context, I think there are too many going around and people just take it for granted. If we impose a cost, it's going to remind people that it's going to hurt and they will be more appreciative of plastic bags.”
SUPERMARKETS, NOT GOVERNMENT, SHOULD TAKE THE LEAD: MP
While a mandatory charge could work in cutting usage, Member of Parliament Lee Bee Wah, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for Environment and Water Resources, is against the idea of legislation.
“It's not just about to charge or not to charge (for) plastic bags. I would think that the big supermarkets should take the lead. And those who are passionate about the environment should come out and lead by example,” she said.
“The Government should look at education; look at bigger issues on the environment, not just plastic bags, per se.”
According to statistics from the NEA’s website, 824,600 tonnes of plastic waste were generated last year. Plastic waste made up the biggest share of waste that was disposed of at the incineration plants in Singapore.
Some might argue that other types of plastic waste also have an impact on the environment, so why the focus on plastic bags?
Professor of Environmental Economics at the Nanyang Technological University Euston Quah said: “Going by the argument that plastics create problems in degradation, then one response will be all plastics should be included. But if in the case of Singapore where plastic bags dominate a large component of all plastics used in Singapore, then naturally policies should target these plastic bags.
“But I do think the reduction in plastic bag use is very minimal if the charge is so low. Besides, stores would want to make the ease of shopping for consumers and will be very reluctant to implement a charge. If they do, they can return the cost in the form of other benefits to consumers.
"But a small charge is also good to tell all consumers that through their use of plastic bags, the environment is harmed,” he said.