Everything costs more and now they want to make us pay for plastic bags too?

The burden of paying more and more.

The Straits Times reported today (23 Apr 2012) that supermarkets here may be required to start charging for plastic bags soon. According to the report this is based on a proposal by the Singapore Environment Council (SEC), a non-government organisation, which is considering getting supermarkets to charge for plastic bags as one of the ways to reduce the use of plastic bags here. SEC’s White Paper proposal to charge for these bags will supposedly involve provision shops and may also include food outlets and hawker stalls according to ST.

The first dismal thought that ran through my mind when I read this was: “That’s going to add to consumer’s expenses.”  Don’t get me wrong. I am all for Saving Gaia and protecting the environment. I am big on recycling and make an effort to recycle my trash daily. And certainly, I support the green efforts to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle and to carry our own eco-bags, if possible, when we shop.

But I am against having to pay for plastic bags at supermarkets and provision shops. Why? Simply because I, like many other consumers in Singapore, need and reuse these bags. Most of the time, these plastic bags are put to good use, not only to carry our groceries, but also to rebag other things and mostly to bag all the rubbish and food waste that we have to throw down the rubbish chutes daily.

Common sense tells us that we need to bag our rubbish for hygiene reasons. Moreover, it is required by the law here to bag our rubbish before disposal. If the supermarkets are “forced” by NGOs and/or the government to start charging for plastic bags, it will just add to consumers’ expenses at a time when cost of living is a huge issue as many things have become more expensive here.

If the charging of bags is implemented, SEC will get a nice pat on its back but the real beneficiary will be the retailers as their expenses will be reduced if we pay for the bags. Consumers on the other hand will incur more costs. We will end up buying these plastic grocery bags because we need them ultimately to bag our rubbish. If we don’t pay for these bags, we may have to purchase the even more expensive trash bags sold at supermarkets, or worse, some people may start dumping their rubbish unbagged!

It is easy for SEC and the other environment activists for their Save Gaia mission to target the supermarkets as they have the biggest public presence and profile with stores all over the island. But perhaps these activists could do a more holistic analysis and review all other areas of harmful waste and more useful ways of reducing unnecessary waste and the use of plastic.

For example, in recent years, the fancy bread shop chains like BreadTalk have been bagging each and every piece of bread and pastry in small transparent plastic bags at the checkout counters. Imagine the thousands of bread items sold daily by the different stores, not only here, but also in the region, and you can imagine the excessive use of such plastic bags by these retailers. Or what about the numerous styrofoam boxes used to pack food (whatever happened to the good old days of wrapping food in waxed paper?) and the millions of plastic cutlery given out with every “dabao” pack of food regardless of whether the consumers need them? As for the widespread use of plastic bags, surely more effort can be made to educate consumers not to be wasteful and to reuse the bags that they take from retailers?

My point is, there are many ways to help protect our environment if our Government and SEC are truly committed to this cause instead of just going for the easiest route of charging consumers (again). Lots more can obviously be done such as placing more visible recycling bins in town and in the heartlands and investing in educating the public (from citizens to the thousands of foreign workers here) on how to reduce their carbon footprint and how to recycle items properly. If the Government can spend $76 million to build an artificial river in Bishan, surely it will not begrudge investing some decent money to save Mother Earth?

The cost of living has become a grave issue and is of real concern to most Singaporeans. A meal at a food court which used to cost about $3 now costs $4 to $6 depending on whether there is a drink involved; Parking charges at many places have escalated by some 20% to 30% (even at some rundown carparks); the cost of many medicines has risen of late by about 5-10%; our electricity and water bills have skyrocketed; taxi-fares keep going up and COEs for cars are expected to hit a high of $100,000 in a few months!

Singapore’s latest consumer price index (CPI), just out today, showed the March CPI rose 5.2 percent from a year ago, far exceeding February’s 4.6 percent increase. This is in contrast to other Asian countries where inflation is well-contained according to a Reuters report. The biggest contributors to our country’s inflation in March were housing, which surged 9.1 percent from a year earlier, and transport, which rose 8.6 percent.

Indeed Singapore has already become the 9th most expensive city in the world, toppling even New York, London, Frankfurt and Hong Kong, according to latest Economist Intelligence Unit survey. We are paying the price for the seemingly incessant inflation, often without the commensurate high wages paid in many other First World countries (there is no minimum wage law here and many part-time jobs pay as little as $3.50 an hour).

The lower-income groups and the sandwiched middle class in Singapore are feeling the pinch and the increasing pain. To the masses who trying to make a living, every cent counts. So please, don’t make us pay for plastic bags too.

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9 Responses to Everything costs more and now they want to make us pay for plastic bags too?

  1. Sorry Jen, I have to disagree with you on this one. Plastic bags are highly unsustainable and we have to get rid of them somehow. I’ve been to cities in South Asia that are far, far poorer than Singapore or any other first world countries and manage to get by without plastic bags.

    You’re right that there are systemic issues that put undue strain on the cost of life for Singaporeans. But the solution to some systemic issues isn’t to skimp on solutions to other ones – we should be doing better and looking for a solution that can help families with the cost of living and at the same time support the environment. They shouldn’t be exclusive.

    Also should be remembered that Singapore has the highest rates of smartphone ownership and internet use in the world, as well as the third highest GDP per capita. If people are feeling the pinch it’s a symptom of money being poorly distributed, not of there not being enough money.

    • I agree with you that plastic bags are not sustainable. But we have a situation here in Singapore where most people live in high rise buildings, trash is thrown down rubbish chutes and trash is required by law to be bagged before disposal. It is a real dilemma and I do hope the Government and related bodies can come up with more sustainable ways and solutions of getting rid of this daily trash from our residences. In the US for example, food waste in many homes can be compacted and disposed of in the kitchen sinks But this is uncommon here as our sinks do not come with this feature. Creating sustainable environment friendly solutions calls for a great deal of investment and often an overhaul of mindsets and entrenched systems. It will not be easy convincing the Governments and private businesses and it will take a lot of work to effect changes. In the meantime, we have real immediate problems to solve and a balance has to be struck between helping the environment and helping the people. As for your comment about other first world countries, I have been to many places across Asia, Europe and the USA and people in the developed cities use plastic bags too. In fact many people in the Western countries even buy large plastic bags to bag their trash.

  2. And lots of third world countries have bans, so the comparison doesn’t get you very far. http://plasticbags.planetark.org/about/othercountries.cfm.

    I’ve heard of the sink thingies in the US but I don’t think it’s by any means normal. Most people around the world use plastic bags, and there’s no real economic argument to say that things should be free just because everyone uses them.

    I think Singapore, like all countries, needs to get rid of or severely reduce the use of plastic bags, I think it’s unfortunate that poor people will have to pay for them, but I think the answer to that is to think long and hard about wealth distrobution and a more progressive tax system so that the government can help people who are poor enough to feel the pinch of a 10c bag levy. Really, a country with $60k GDP per capita shouldn’t have people getting burnt by something like this.

    By the way, we now have biodegradable bags. So saying that everyone needs to use plastic bags isn’t quite true anymore – everyone needs bags, but there’s no reason (apart from cost) for them they need to use free ones that don’t break down for thousands of years,

    • I take your point about the need to reduce the use of plastic bags and I agree something has to be done worldwide on this. But if only things were so simple. My point is that these bags are currently needed because by law we Have to bag our trash before disposal. How else can we get rid of our dailytrash from our homes? This is why I say just charging for the bags is not the real solution as it just passes the buck to consumers many of whom will be hard pressed to incur additional costs. These are not the occasional bag one buys if one shops at Ikea.These are frequent purchases of groceries and daily necessities and those bags will add up to quite a lot of cost.

      The Government and the environmentalists should be looking at longer term solutions such as reviewing ways on how our daily trash can be gotten rid of in an environment-friendly way, and getting businesses to produce paper bags and biodegradeable bags instead of plastic bags. But the latter will cost companies more and the Govt obviously doesn’t want to upset the big businesses by pressuring them to do so hence it is easier for them to just make consumers pay which I disagree with. Saving the environment is not straightforward nor a simple solution of banning. Social reeducation is needed and we really need a deep committment from the Government to make a much biggger holistic effort to come up with sustainable long-term solutions instead of piecemeal ones.

  3. The Pariah says:

    Fully agree with JentrifiedCitizen.

    This SEC initiative smacks of the same PAP Govt’s Progressive Corporatism!

    PEOPLE = PENALTY for plastic bag for wet stuff even when bag is recycled for garbage. NTUC Fairprice Win-Win-Win – rebate $0.10 for BYOB (Bring Your Own Bag).

    BUSINESSES = REWARD from awards + public $$$ grants for environmentally friendly measures but NO PENALTY if companies ignore them. Biz will (i) save cost, (ii) increase revenue and (iii) generate new income from charging for shopping bags and selling more garbage bags.

    NEA and the brigade of garbage chute cleaners will have a horrendous job when household waste and swill are dumped raw into the chutes. In turn, pest control will become a bigger problem which will entail greater use of pest control chemicals.

    Perhaps SEC could focus on battery disposal instead of plastic bags which are mostly bio-degradable these days anyway. I haven’t succeeded in getting NEA to collect used batteries by providing a small compartment at the same recycling bins, I reckon battery disposal is much more insiduous and damaging to the environment – even though the cost is not commensurate with the return. Environmental damage first or economic viability first?

  4. lemondrop says:

    Degradable bags are not helpful in our case. You only use it once also and then in Singapore we burn our rubbish – same route as normal plastic bags. Furthermore, the other day I wanted to take a bag for reuse and found that the biodegradable bag had totally disintegrated leaving bits and pieces everywhere. How to reuse? And it doesn’t totally disappear. Most degradable bags still contain some plastic content. What is better is compostable bags but those are hardly to be seen anywhere in Singapore, if at all. Plus you CANNOT recycle degradable bags but you can recycle the normal LDPE, HDPE plastic bags.

    Anyway, I find that I use very few of those T-shirt supermarket plastic bags. I use the bread plastic wrapping for wet waste that needs to be thrown out immediately or even those plastic sheets that some magazines or mail come in. Just use rubber band or twist ties to secure.

    And also, you stuff as much as possible in the plastic bag before throwing away,

    By the way, if one is really diligently recycling, you should be throwing away less things because if you notice – most household waste CAN BE recycled. (PET packaging, glass and cans, paper packaging). So unless you live in a very large mansion or large household and need many rubbish bins to be lined, you hardly need many plastic bags.
    (Speaking of lining rubbish bins, you can reuse shrink wrap and that would help reduce need for plastic bags)

    So if you think that you still need to spend a lot of money on buying plastic bags for rubbish, why not just offset the cost by daobaoing your food – many stalls charge if you daobao your food. And from doing that, you save on even more plastic bags needed to throw away the food packaging isn’t it?

    It is very funny how more people complain about plastic bags than about the stalls that charge you 20 cents for daobao.

    If we can use some common sense and creativity – the number of plastic bags can be greatly reduced in each household. With very little inconvenience and in the end, you know what – I think we all end of saving money. Why? Because then taxpayers will not have to fork out so much money to build another Pulau Semakau for our ever-increasing trash that we are throwing out.

    • agree with you there is no simple solution to this. NEA needs to come up with a more holistic approach that wll have more impact in reducing the use of harmful materials like plastic and styrofoam.

  5. I Feel blog, “Everything costs more and now they want
    to make us pay for plastic bags too? | Jentrified Citizen” was indeed good!
    I reallycould not see eye to eye together with you more!

    At last looks like I actuallycame across a website very well worth reading
    through. Regards, Nannie

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