Member of Parliament (MP) for Nee Soon Group Representation Constituency (GRC), Louis Ng has proposed charging for single-use carrier bags in a bid to reduce waste in Singapore. This proposal appears to be backed up by Senior Minister of State for Environment and Water Resources, Amy Khor, who said that managing plastics and packaging waste is one of the “key priorities” for her ministry. While I wholeheartedly agree with these suggestions, I query how united the government actually is in relation to waste reduction.
I have no doubt with regards to Ng’s sincerity. He has always been a tireless advocate for the environment. Yet, I cannot help but notice that what Ng and Khor have said seems to contradict what Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli had said earlier this year. His famous words were: “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” Is this a change of heart by the relevant government departments or is there disagreement within the ranks? If it is the latter, then I have questions in relation to how Ng’s suggestions will be implemented.
Plastic bags contribute significantly to our plastic waste as a nation. According to 2016 statistics, Singapore discarded 27 billion plastic bags, an average of 13 bags per person per day. It therefore seems entirely like a no brainer to target this as a start.
Given that Khor has pledged the commitment of her department to plastic waste reduction, why is there hesitation when it comes to plastic bags? Why is the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources so reticent? What else is there to monitor? The statistics of waste are black and white. Besides, what is so wrong with being a society that charges for plastic bags? Isn’t that a sign of progressive responsibility? Aren’t we a first world country?
Ng’s reasoning for why carrier bags should be chargeable is sound. It would also be entirely in line with the government’s other environmental pursuits which range from solar panels for HDB flats to the building of eco friendly buildings. Singapore has a high incidence of plastic waste which is contrary to the high profile eco friendly projects which we have embarked upon. There is no point in building large scale eco buildings if we cannot even get the basics rights. Surely it is easier and cheaper for the government to charge for plastic bags than to build solar panels.