Oral Reply by SMS Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment, to Parliamentary Question on Disposable Carrier Bag Charge
Dr Lim Wee Kiak: To ask the Minister for Sustainability and the Environment (a) whether the Ministry has done any study to ascertain the impact of a disposable carrier bag charge on vulnerable households, especially the elderly; (b) how will such a charge impact residents who use such bags to dispose of their daily household waste in HDB flats; (c) how will the charge apply to home deliveries from supermarkets; and (d) whether supermarket employees, including those who pack groceries for deliveries, receive training to use minimal packaging.
Mr Don Wee: To ask the Minister for Sustainability and the Environment in view of the current global economic crisis, whether the Ministry will (i) consider deferring the implementation of the charging model for disposable carrier bags and (ii) assess the potential impact of such additional charges on the lower income groups.
Mr Gan Thiam Poh: To ask the Minister for Sustainability and the Environment (a) whether the Ministry plans to allow only the use of biodegradable plastic bags to replace the current plastic bags; and (b) whether the Ministry will consider incentivising the use of such biodegradable bags to balance the need of residents to bag their trash before they are disposed into common rubbish chutes in our high rise environment.
Mr Louis Ng Kok Kwang: To ask the Minister for Sustainability and the Environment (a) when will the Ministry complete the public consultation on developing an appropriate disposable carrier bag charge at supermarkets; (b) what measures is the Ministry considering to take to lower the impact of this charge on lower income families; and (c) whether the Ministry will consider charging per bag from the third bag and providing lower income families with a reusable shopping bag each.
In 2020, about 200,000 tonnes of disposables such as carrier bags and takeaway containers were thrown away in Singapore, sufficient to fill 400 Olympic-sized swimming pools. Excessive consumption of disposables is unsustainable and can be avoided if all stakeholders work together to change mindsets, habits and behaviour. Implementing a charge for single-use carrier bags at supermarkets is one of the recommendations submitted by the Citizens’ Workgroup on Reducing the Excessive Consumption of Disposables to change social behaviour. Many jurisdictions overseas have already implemented disposable carrier bag charges with positive results. For example, bag charges in jurisdictions such as Hong Kong, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Taiwan, and the Netherlands have reduced consumption of disposable bags by about 60–90%.
A disposable carrier bag charge is not new to Singapore. As part of the Plastic ACTion business initiative started by World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Singapore, retailers such as Uniqlo, Watsons, H&M, and The Body Shop have committed to a bag charge, and collectively achieved over 60% reduction in single-use bags. NTUC FairPrice has also piloted bag charges, and received positive response. Last year, their year-long “No Plastic Bag” initiative at 25 supermarkets and convenience stores resulted in more than 15 million plastic bags saved.
In developing an appropriate model for a disposable carrier bag charge at supermarkets, the National Environment Agency will study overseas examples and consult key stakeholders and members of the public. For example, the amount to be charged; whether the charge will apply per transaction, or per bag from the first or third bag; implementation timeline; and how the charge proceeds will be used. We will take into account our local context, such as the current practice of reusing disposable carrier bags to bag rubbish for disposal. We will also look into any possible impact of a charge, especially on the more vulnerable groups such as low-income households, and will consult the Ministry of Social and Family Development and social service agencies on the possible mitigation measures to address any impact.
We will also consult supermarket operators on other details, such as how the charge could apply to home deliveries, and training supermarket employees, including those who pack groceries for deliveries, to minimise packaging use. We aim to complete our consultations by the end of the year.
Plastic waste generated in Singapore is either recycled or sent to our waste-to-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. 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 altogether.
The disposable carrier bag charge is intended to discourage the excessive use of disposable bags and to promote the use of reusables. However, this measure alone is not a silver bullet. We must address this issue on multiple fronts, from enhancing public education and awareness, to behavioural nudges, to working with producers and retailers to use less packaging upstream. All of us must play our part to catalyse a mindset and behavioural shift towards a greener and zero-waste Singapore.