Thursday, 28 September 2023

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Senior Minister of MEWR says no to plastic bag charge

The issue of plastic pollution in Singapore continues as questions are raised in Parliament for the Senior Minister of State for Environment and Water Resources (MEWR), Dr Amy Khor. Right now, discussions are rife about whether or not the government should implement a charge on single-use plastic bags.

When asked, Dr Khor noted that the ministry is serious about tackling the issue of plastic pollution and that Singapore actually already has measures in place to prevent marine plastic pollution such as strict anti-littering laws and the use of anti-litter traps and flotsam watercrafts to trap waste before it enters the seas.

Rightly so, the Senior Minister also pointed out that marine plastic pollution is transboundary and as such, requires international and regional cooperation. That isn’t to say that Singapore can’t do anything on its own to mitigate the islands own impact on marine life.

Singapore’s only landfill at Semakau will run out of space by 2035 based on current waste disposal trends. Waste (including single use plastics) are incinerated where possible thus reducing the volume of waste by up to 90%. In efforts to prolong the lifespan of Semakau, the Ministry has been working to implement a ‘holistic’ approach of tackling the plastic problem across the entire waste value chain including encouraging businesses and producers to reduce waste and recycle.

Dr Khor noted that the National Environment Agency (NEA) is also working on the ‘Closing the Waste Loop’ initiative which is a collaboration between universities and research institutes to evaluate research on sustainable designs of plastic materials, making more reusable and easy to recycle plastic, and recovering value from waste plastic.

All that sound pretty good, actually. The NEA and MEWR are clearly working very hard in tackling the problem on as many fronts as possible. However, Dr Khor was still adamant that the government will not be implementing a charge on single-use plastic bags.

“I think what we want to do is adopt a holistic approach and to tackle this upstream, really. So by bringing forward the mandatory reporting of packaging waste and waste reduction plans, actually we are working on addressing the issue of excessive consumption of disposables. Not just single use plastics but all kinds of disposables. So currently we do not have plans to implement a charge on single use plastics. But we continue to monitor the effectiveness of various policies that are implemented overseas,” she said when addressing parliament on 6th August, 2018.

The concept of implementing a levy on plastic bags is not a new thing. In fact, various of countries have started doing this since the early 1990s, some even imposing a levy not just on plastic bags but all single-use plastic items such as cutlery and takeaway packaging. And in fact, these policies have been proven to drastically reduce the use of plastic bags overall, thus reducing plastic waste as well in different countries around the world including US, UK and even Argentina.

So the question here is, since Dr Khor is serious about tackling this problem holistically, why is there such opposition for a levy on plastic bags when that policy is proven time and time again to be quite effective?

Shouldn’t a multi-pronged approach be well, multi-pronged? Surely a charge on plastic bags will not diminish any other efforts the government is taking to reduce plastic pollution and in fact would serve to complement the policies already in place?

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