Oral Reply by Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources, to Parliamenty Question on Imposing a Charge on Plastic Bags in Supermarkets, 9 Nov 2016 [Parliament Q&A]
Question: To ask the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources whether the Ministry will consider imposing a charge on plastic bags at supermarkets.
In Singapore, households generally re-use plastic bags to dispose of their waste in a hygienic manner. In addition, plastic bags which are thrown away are incinerated safely at our waste-to-energy plants before they are landfilled as ash. This is in contrast to other countries where waste is directly landfilled. In these countries, plastic bags, which are not biodegradable, may remain in landfills for a long time or find their way into the sea.
2 Even though Singapore manages the disposal of plastic bags well, there is room for us to cut down on excessive usage. The recent discussions on the plastic bag issue reflect a greater environmental awareness among Singaporeans. I commend environmental groups for raising awareness on the need to curb the excessive use of plastic bags. For instance, ZeroWasteSG conducted a survey among supermarket shoppers and found that only about 15% of shoppers were using reusable bags or trolleys without taking plastic bags. I am heartened by recent media reports that major supermarket players in Singapore are open to considering measures to reduce plastic bag usage, such as a voluntary charge on plastic bags if imposed across the industry.
3 However, some concerns have been raised on implementing a plastic bag charge. For example, will there be unintended consequences, such as the substitution of plastic bags with paper bags or even wastage of re-usable bags? Additionally, how can sufficient educational and enforcement measures be put in place to complement the charge and reduce demand for plastic bags by shoppers?
4 My Ministry and the National Environment Agency (NEA) are looking into the responses to ZeroWasteSG’s survey and are engaging supermarket operators to explore potential solutions to reduce the excessive use of plastic bags. NEA has also recently published a tender to study the different types of single-use carriers and how they compare in terms of cost and impact on the environment. These will help in our formulation of any future policies on the use of different types of bags.
5 Ultimately, the excessive use of plastic bags can only be curbed with the support and participation of the community and retailers. Shoppers can play their part by taking just enough plastic bags for their needs and re-using them for bagging household refuse. They can also utilise re-usable bags as much as possible. With a strong partnership between the public, private and people sectors, I am confident that we can create a more sustainable Singapore together.
Supplementary Questions by Mr Louis Ng Kok Kwang:
I thank SMS for the response. I thank you for also considering imposing a plastic bag charge. But is there a time frame before a decision is made? Secondly SMS has given some of the survey results from ZeroWasteSG but I ask whether the Ministry could also consider the other part of the survey which showed that 65% of shoppers would reduce the number of plastic bags they take from supermarkets, or 58% would actually bring their own reusable bag, if there is a 10 cents charge imposed by the supermarkets. I think what we are calling for here is not a ban on plastic bags, which we know we need to use to bag our rubbish, but I think this is a pretty good middle ground. It is win-win, because it is asking people to reduce the wastage and the survey results so far shows that people would reduce wastage if it is just a 10 cents charge.
Reply by SMS Amy Khor:
I want to thank the member for his supplementary question and comments. Let me first note that we recognise the importance and benefits of curbing the excessive use of plastic bags. In fact, we are looking at further measures to see how we can achieve this, as I have noted in my reply. But let me also note that, we need to recognise that our national circumstances are actually quite unique and different from those of many other countries. Together with the municipal waste, the plastic bags which are thrown away are actually incinerated and not directly landfilled. So concerns, for instance, regarding the non-biodegradability of plastic bags, which is really the key reason used to justify a levy on plastic bags in many other countries, is not applicable in our context.
Moreover we need to also recognise that a large majority of Singaporeans live in apartments and they dispose their refuse through the refuse chute, and they use plastic bags to dispose of their rubbish in a hygienic manner. I think it has taken us quite a long time to get this habit going. The other thing is, if you look at the views on this issue, which is imposing a charge on plastic bags, it is actually quite mixed. Through our consultations as well as through the media and social media, many are supportive of this, citing for instance excessive use of plastic bags as well as for countries that have imposed it, there is a significant reduction in the number of plastic bags used.
But there are also others who have objected, citing reasons like hygiene in terms of disposing using plastic bags, as well as some unintended consequences that may arise, for instance, substituting the use of plastic bags with paper bags, which is also a resource. In addition, wastage of reusable bags and such.
I think there are merits of the argument on both sides. So we really need to do a study on this. We need to engage the stakeholders, which we are doing. And we are also looking at the experiences of other countries, as well as a life cycle assessment study that we are conducting, which will look at the cost and environmental impact of the different types of bags used. This will help us to formulate policies, including on the use of plastic bags.
So I think we need to do this in order to come to a decision, and we will share the results of the study, and the decision on whether to implement a charge on plastic bags. If so, in what manner, for instance it is just major supermarkets or major retailers as well. We need to do this before we can give you a decision.
Supplementary Question by Mr Pritam Singh:
Can I confirm if the Ministry has done a study with regard to the emissions from biodegradable plastic bags, as opposed to one which is not biodegradable?
Reply by SMS Amy Khor:
In fact, this is exactly what we are doing. We have recently published a tender, and we have commissioned a study on the life cycle assessment on the different types of single use carrier bags used, as well as common forms of containers that are used for food and beverage. The idea is to look into how these different types of material compare in terms of cost, as well as environmental impact.
Source credit: MEWR