When Will Supermarkets Stop Providing Plastic Bags?

Supermarket Plastic Bag Charge

Do you have a plastic bag at home that is filled with a lot of other plastic bags? I’m guessing you do, and it’s probably pretty common across households in Singapore. And even though that’s the case, I think many people would be terribly upset if supermarkets and other shops in Singapore decided to stop providing plastic bags altogether (just like at IKEA). I can imagine many ‘aunties’ would be up in arms saying “I need these plastic bags to contain garbage!”

And if you ask individuals (who love their plastic bags) now whether they’d be willing to switch to reusable totes for their grocery shopping so as to be more eco-friendly, you might get the common refrain of “I’m just 1 person. It’s not going to change anything. Everyone else is still using plastic bags!”

Plastic Bags in Singapore

One plastic bag to contain all the other plastic bags

Perhaps we are all missing the point.

We don’t need to get rid of plastic bags like we should be rid of cigarettes or drugs, for instance. Plastic bags do come in useful, such as when we are bagging refuse, or need a bag to throw up in.

What we need to do is to minimize the amount of trash we create, especially plastic one-use trash and also make sure that each plastic bag we use is fully utilized (i.e. don’t throw out a bag that’s only half-full).

And if that bag containing many other plastic bags at home is still rather full, consider bringing a reuseable tote to the supermarket instead. Are you aware that you can get a 10-cent discount if you bring your own bag when you go grocery shopping at NTUC FairPrice outlets (with minimum $10 spend)?

I sure do, and whenever possible, I bring a few shopping totes with me. But what I didn’t know was how much this initiative costs for FairPrice.

I attended a recent forum organized by Young NTUC and ZeroWasteSG regarding plastic disposables, where views and solutions were gathered from the ground to see how we can improve our environmental situation.

At this forum, I found out that while this bag rebate saved some 10 million plastic bags, the initiative also cost FairPrice half a million dollars to implement!

That’s S$500,000 spent in a bid to encourage its shoppers to be more eco-conscious! But I’m afraid that with the self-checkout counters that we see more of these days, shoppers can help themselves to as many plastic bags as they’d like (double-bag, triple-bag, or more?), and FairPrice’s earlier efforts might go down the drain… FAST.

Will any supermarket chain volunteer to stop handing out plastic bags completely? I don’t know, but it looks like they are all waiting for each other to take action first, for fear that this (perhaps) drastic move would send their customers to their competitors instead. So while this waiting game continues, how will Singapore be able to reduce its waste output?

I do think our government needs to take the lead since it organizes a lot of national events that, frankly, end up resulting in a lot of waste (and litter), what with the plastic bottles of water handed out, and all those goodie bags filled with things that we really don’t need more of. I’ve attended a couple of community eco events and received goodies bags with bottled water, pens (why do we need so many pens?!), flyers, notepads, etc. And these are events that want to promote sustainability! Uh-oh.

Souvenir Pen

Plastic pen in a plastic sheath I got after taking a survey about sustainability issues. Hard to miss the irony here.

During the forum on plastic disposables, ZeroWasteSG’s founder, Eugene Tay, shared with us about how plastic waste has become a huge problem for our tiny nation-state. In 2014, the International Coastal Cleanup group in Singapore saw volunteers collecting from along our coastline some 19,000 plastic bottles and over 7,000 takeaway containers, among other pieces of trash which would otherwise have ended up in the ocean, affecting marine life and the food chain. While we as a nation are producing more waste, recycling rates have been stagnant at about 7% to 13%.

Plastic Bags for groceries

Do we really need so many plastic bags?

I think it won’t be long before supermarkets start charging for plastic bags so shoppers will request for fewer bags, or simply bring their own. Perhaps it might have to be mandated by the Government, but it will be a step in the right direction, for sure.

And hopefully, in future editions of the National Day Parade, we won’t need to provide plastic bags in each fun pack – spectators will either head to centralized bins or bring their trash home for disposal. It’s so comical how we still face a problem with littering despite our love for plastic bags and how there’s a proliferation of bins everywhere. If we are to take pride in our country’s state of cleanliness, we’ll have to start taking personal responsibility and stop relying on an army of cleaners.

Also, we need to ensure that future generations get to enjoy what we have now, as climate change is real despite what a certain President will have you believe, and we need to do our part to protect the environment. If it starts by taking and using fewer plastic bags, let’s do it together.