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.