Why do we use so many plastic bags in Singapore?

July 26th, 2014

Yesterday, I received an email from 2 students asking for my opinion on the main cause(s) of excessive plastic bag use in Singapore. This was my reply to them.

I feel that one of the basic reasons is that people in Singapore generally lack awareness, and unfortunately even concern, about the harms that our modern life (including the excessive use of plastic bags) brings to the environment.

Public education in this area is very much lacking. Even with the “Bring your own bag” initiative at NTUC, you still have some good-intentioned NTUC cashiers who would offer you more plastic bags, or even insist you take them, when you shop at the supermarket.



The ever-readiness of retailers, whether supermarkets or snack-stalls etc, to provide customers with plastic bags, doesn’t help. It really does discourage consumers from bringing their own bags or containers.

I do feel that the 10cent-refund-approach for bringing your own bag is a little half-hearted. Especially when the refund is such a token amount. The human mind is more adverse to losses than attracted to gains, so the “Bring your own bag” initiative might be more effective if customers are charged 10cents for the use of retailers’ plastic bags, rather than charged upfront and given minute refunds if they bring their own bags.

When my Singaporean friends (a whole 40 plus of them) and I were in China shopping for books, the bookstore I went to simply did not provide any plastic bags. It worked. It got everyone to bring their own bags. See, Singaporeans and Mainland Chinese can bring their own bags too, if given the push.

It doesn’t help that most of our general households actually need quite a bit of plastic bags to contain our rubbish so that they do not smell at the end of the day. I’m not sure how this problem can be solved. I’ve been thinking hard. In my household, we try our best to make full use of every plastic bag that enters the house. However, we still need quite a bit of plastic bags, which we get from NTUC :P

The way we can readily throw our rubbish down our chutes or rubbish bins without concern for how much waste we create is a very important factor. In countries where there is a limit to how much waste each household can produce per week, households are actually more motivated to reuse, recycle and produce less waste (including using less plastic bags).

Then there is the issue of food packaging. Since many households in this city (and possibly in many other cities) comprise of only a few members, it is definitely more convenient to buy food that are packed in smaller portions. This means more packaging is needed. That adds on to our use of plastic packaging.

I feel that it will need a strong political leadership and will to push Singapore toward a more environmentally-friendly way of life. At the moment, I do think that the will is not as strong as the call to keep our economy going.

The growing number of young people who are becoming more aware (like the two gals who contacted me) can make a difference by educating those around them, for a start. As more people become aware and voice their concern, it would be hard for our leaders to ignore this aspect of responsible living.

PS. Thanks for inspiring this post, Jiaru and Yu Lin! All the best for your project!

This entry was posted on Saturday, July 26th, 2014 at 7:04 am and is filed under Reflections, Singapore's Green Efforts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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