Singapore, a country aiming to reduce waste and combat the climate crisis, has introduced a new policy requiring major supermarket chains to charge customers for plastic bags.

However, this move comes years after similar initiatives were implemented in countries like South Korea and Japan.

Starting from 3 July, around 400 outlets, which make up two-thirds of all supermarkets in Singapore, are mandated to charge shoppers at least S$0.05 ($0.04) for each disposable bag.

This fee applies to bags made of any material, although plastic bags are the most commonly used at major grocery stores like FairPrice, Sheng Siong and Cold Storage.

Impact on the environment

The National Environment Agency of Singapore emphasised that all disposables, regardless of their material, negatively affect the environment during production, transportation and disposal.

Such consumption contributes to waste generation and carbon emissions, exacerbating the climate crisis. Consequently, the government has taken this step to encourage shoppers to be more mindful of their choices and opt for reusable totes.

Singapore’s lagging progress

Despite its Zero Waste Masterplan, which aims to reduce landfill waste by 30% daily by 2030, Singapore has been slower than other Asian countries in curbing plastic consumption at stores.

Japan, for example, implemented a mandatory charge on plastic bags in all retail shops in 2020 while South Korea banned single-use plastic bags at major supermarkets in 2019.

In 2020, Thailand also prohibited single-use plastic bags at major stores.

Efforts and implementation

To create awareness among shoppers, retailers will display signs in multiple languages, including English, Malay, Chinese and Tamil, to inform customers about the new fee for plastic bags.

The Singaporean government encourages supermarket chains to donate the proceeds from the bag fee to environmental or social causes.

Some stores have already started charging for bags before the official deadline. Other international chains such as Uniqlo and Cotton On, not included in the new policy, either charge for bags or have completely banned plastic.

Consumer behaviour considerations

While the introduction of charges for plastic bags is considered long overdue, experts question whether it will be sufficient to deter consumers.

Professor Sumit Agarwal from the National University of Singapore’s School of Business wrote in a commentary piece for Channel News Asia that more might need to be done to change consumer behaviour effectively.

By implementing this new policy, Singapore hopes to make significant strides in reducing plastic waste and promoting sustainable practices among its citizens.