Singapore is certainly not a country that has the reputation for shying away from fines and charges. From using roads at peak periods to fees for parking to tariffs on cars, Singapore has not been a stranger to using increased costs to reduce usage or cut numbers on behaviours it deems undesirable.
It is therefore surprising for Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli to say: "If you want me to charge for plastic bags I can. But I don't think that's how we want to be as a society" in relation to tackling the high levels of plastic bag usage in Singapore. Singapore has not had qualms for charging for other things in order to reduce usage. What's difference about plastic bags?
Mr Zulkifli has advocated using education as a means to reduce our reliance on plastic. While I agree with that approach, I don't understand why a charge on plastic bags and education are mutually exclusive. Why can't we use a two pronged approach? Education is paramount in order to yield long term behavioural changes and alter consumer habits. Charging a small fee for each plastic bag will encourage shoppers to either bring their own bags or reconsider if they need as many bags. It doesn't have to be a big charge, Just 10 cents per bag will provide the incentive to shoppers to think before they bag. For instance, they may make more efforts to fit more in one bag rather than take an extra one.
The amount of plastic that a small country like Singapore consumes is shocking and I do think that it should be a priority to cut usage. Mr Zulkifli seems to think that he has to tackle e-waste before he targets plastic usage but I can't understand why that is the case. Surely the government is able to multi task? That's like saying Singapore cannot pursue trade talks with Korea because it is also having talks with Malaysia?
He also seems to be linking the bagging of trash to the usage of plastic bags. While I agree that it does have an effect on the usage of plastic bags, this is completely separate to taking multiple plastic bags at supermarkets? Aren't they separate sources? Also, what about considering tax reliefs for shops that use biodegradable bags?
Mr Zulkifli is quoted saying, "When you try to do everything, you'll end up doing nothing, so do the most important things first - and right now we are tackling e-waste." and goes on about the extended producer responsibility law, due to take effect by 2021, that would force producers of electrical and electronic equipment here to ensure their products are collected and recycled or disposed of at the end of their lifespans.
As the saying goes, there are many ways to skin a cat. To deflect from the plastic bag issue by saying that e-waste is more important seems like a cop out. To say that we do not want to be the kind of society that charges for plastic bags is also illogical. If you are willing to increase the prices of necessities such as electricity and water, what's the issue with charging 10 cents for a plastic bag?
At least with a plastic bag, I have the option of bringing my own bag if I don't want to pay the charge. With electricity and water, I don't have a choice, do I?