Singapore

Consultation on plastic bag charges to be completed by end of 2021

Consultations with stakeholders and members of the public on a carrier bag charge will likely be completed by the end of this year, said Senior Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment Amy Khor in Parliament on Monday (May 10).

The National Environment Agency (NEA) had said previously that details of the charge will be finalised following the consultations.

The charge - intended to discourage the excessive use of disposable bags and to promote reusables - will not be a silver bullet, added Dr Khor.

Dr Khor said that the issue must be addressed on multiple fronts, including public education, behavioural nudges and working with producers and retailers to reduce packaging.

She was responding to questions from MPs who had asked about the ministry's plans to roll out a charging model for disposable carrier bags at supermarkets, which she first announced on April 10.

Implementing a charge for single-use carrier bags at supermarkets was one of the recommendations submitted by the Citizens' Workgroup on Reducing the Excessive Consumption of Disposables to change social behaviour.

Dr Khor said that in developing an appropriate model for a disposable carrier bag charge at supermarkets, the NEA will study overseas examples and consult key stakeholders and members of the public.

For instance, she said, NEA will take into account local practices such as the current practice of using disposable carrier bags to bag trash for disposal.

This may guide the decision on how much should be charged, whether the charge will apply per transaction or per bag, and if so, whether from the first or third bag.

Also under consideration are the implementation timeline and how charge proceeds will be used.

Dr Khor added that any possible impact of a charge will be looked into, especially on vulnerable groups like lower-income households.

To develop possible mitigation measures to address any impact on such groups, the Ministry of Social and Family Development and social service agencies will be consulted, she said.

She also said that supermarket operators will be engaged on how such a charge will apply to home deliveries, and how supermarket employees can be trained to use fewer plastic bags in packing.

Dr Khor, responding to a question from Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) on whether the upcoming disposable bag charge will apply beyond supermarkets, such as on e-commerce platforms, said the charge will apply only in supermarkets for a start.

"We need to first of all develop a model that is workable, and then to look into the impact and any unintended consequences before we consider if this could be expanded further," she said.

Asked by Ms Hany Soh (Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC) if the ministry has considered incentivising using reusables instead of implementing a charge, Dr Khor reiterated that the charge will not be a silver bullet, and that the overconsumption will have to be addressed on several fronts.

"We have seen other countries implementing a disposable carrier bag charge, as well as some of our retailers, with positive response, and so we are actually working on this front now," she said.

Correction note: An earlier version of this story said plans to start charging for disposable bags at supermarkets will likely take effect next year, once consultations are completed at the end of this year. This is inaccurate. An MSE spokesman has clarified it is unable to provide an indicative timeline at this point. We are sorry for the error.

This article first appeared in The Straits Times.

Environment