Are Singaporeans Ready To Pay-For-Plastic Bags?

A recent poll conducted by Yahoo! Singapore titled ‘Are you in favor of pay-for-plastic bag law?’ resulted in over 15,000 respondents (0.3% of total population), of which 66% voted a surprising no.

According to a follow-up article (read the story here) and many publicly posted comments, there seem to be 2 common thread of consensus to the reasons why people are opposing the law.

  • This is a way for businesses to monetize from customers. The cost of plastic bags are already factored into the business’s operational costs, and charging 5 to10 cents per bags is far too expensive.
  • This is a way for the government of Singapore to penalize its people in trying to resolve a national issue. In this case, garbage disposal.

While businesses in countries, such as Hong Kong, Canada, China, USA, Ireland have adopted a fee-based charge for plastic bag use; other countries such as Italy, Mexico City and parts of the US have completely banned the use and sale of plastic bags. All in an effort to save the planet. When you visit those countries, note how people are accepting and accustomed to the habit of bringing their own carrier bags – be it cloth, bags or recycled bags.

While I think it is a good idea to charge for (and even ban to use of) plastic bags in Singapore, I believe the government has a much greater responsibility to:


Invest in educating our people about become a more environmentally-sensitive society and build global awareness. Questions such as why do we need to know this?; what is the significance to me as an individual and as a citizen of the planet?; where can I seek more information and help?; when and why now should I change; and how can I make a difference? need to be addressed.
We need to incorporate teachings in schools to cultivate new habits and an environmentally-aware mindset at a young age, hold community workshops for people and offer alternative ways to go market-ing (local slang for grocery shopping), build a network of people and programs to share ideas and alternative options beyond the use of plastic bags in everyday life; and encourage by funding nationwide 3R (reuse, recycle, reduce) campaigns.


The government needs to be its own role model. Honestly, at this stage, we are not there yet. Walk into any ministry lobby, do you see garbage bins that are separated out for paper, plastic and rubbish? Probably at an obscure corner, if any at all.

I like to use IKEA as an example because they have a great thing going when it comes to rubbish bins. Have you noticed that every time you go to a rubbish bin at IKEA, it is never just one bin. There are three waste-sorting bins, each labeled a different color (Blue for Plastic items, Green for Paper items and Black for all Others).



Some people say that Singaporeans are an ignorant and stingy bunch when it comes to paying for plastic bags. I do not believe that is true. How many times have you seen an irate customer at IKEA Singapore complaining about paying five cents for a plastic bag nowadays? Never. Anyone who goes to IKEA already KNOWS that this is IKEA’s policy. In 2007 when IKEA stopped giving out free plastic bags, their plastic-bag use by customers dropped more than 80% within the first year, from 9.3 million bags to just below 1 million. And still, their cash tills continue to ring!

So, it is not that we oppose to paying for plastic bags. But rather, I believe most people simply just do not see the point to do so. Can you blame us? Over generations, we have developed habits from our parents when it comes to grocery shopping and household uses of plastic bags. Not to mention, global environmental awareness is not an active subject at school. How do we expect to inculcate such values in later life?

It is my opinion that, without proper national education, support and walking the talk from the government, imposing such a law would be like a slap in the face.


It is easy and convenient to lay the entire job and blame on the government. However, we also have a responsibility to ourselves and our family, to build our own sensitivity radar to environmental issues. We are educated enough to know that everything we do – impacts someone and/or something else in one way or another.  To remain ignorant, despite knowing the facts, is no fault of the government’s or business’, but our very own.
For example, when you throw rubbish down the chute, have you ever wondered: who picks it up at the bottom of the chute? where it gets transported to? how is your rubbish sorted?

We do not need to make extreme changes and start hugging trees. But while the pay-for-plastic bag law is not yet legalize and Mother Earth is still able to sustain our living today, this is a good time to consciously change some of our everyday habits. It boils down to the everyday decisions we make. So the next time you are at the cashier, look at your purchases and see if you can go without a plastic bag.

What decisions are you making today?

This feature was listed as one of Kat’s Best Feature Posts of 2012.

Ben, this one’s for you 😉 thanks !

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