Bring Your Own Bag Day

As an Earth Day tribute, what better way to start my foray at Metblogs than to ponder at Singapore’s attempt to minimise waste over the years.

Whether environmentally altruistic or prompted by shortage of land for more landfills, it would appear the government has come up with strategies to break Singaporeans into the habit of recycling. In 1996 they came up with recycling bins promoting waste segregation. Now they have an annual Recycling Day, a fortnightly collection program under the National Recycling Program and the latest campaign to add to the list – the Bring Your Own Bag Day.

On the week leading up to Earth Day, on 18 April 2007, the National Environment Agency launched the inaugural Bring Your Own Bag day. Of course to ensure that the scheme lives on, every subsequent first wednesday of the month is a BYOB – Bring Your Own Bag day as well. If you are a plastic-bag addict, you’re most welcome to “donate 10 cents for each plastic bag taken at the checkout counters.”

Honestly, BYOB is much less taxing on the brain and less of a mouthful to say than its predecessors, the ‘Why waste plastic bags? Choose reusable bags!” campaign launched last year. I can’t help but clutch my head in despair when I have to say a 12 syllables campaign title every time I want to refer to it. Apparently it was a success with the FREE reusable bags being snatched up within the hour at Parkway Parade Shopping Centre where it was launched. But you know how Singaporeans are with “FREE” things. They could be using it to carry plastic bags for all you know. Or of course they could be like my mom who collects these bags – she would just buy a new one every time she goes to the supermarket and forgets to bring her reusable bag.

Plastic bag junkies turn bag junkies? Source: Asiaone

On the other hand, only selected supermarkets are practicing this BYOB scheme and these include:

o Carrefour
o Cold Storage
o FairPrice
o Giant
o Prime
o Sheng Siong
o Shop n Save

So if you are like me, and don’t ever visit any of these supermarkets since I’m not responsible for household consumption, then you’ll still have to endure being handed out little plastic bags for every pen, mint or paper clip you buy.

Overheard in the office on Wednesday, as the radio reports on the BYOB day, a coworker voiced out loud:

“How come the cashier at Cheers asked me if I want a plastic bag just now when I bought a drink?”

Cheers is a local competitor of 7-11 in Singapore that just so happens to be located on the ground floor of my office building. Indeed, the same day, I went downstairs and again had to profusely refuse a plastic bag despite it being BYOB day. Of course, the BYOB world only exist in 7 selected bubbles on the island.

Undeniable, these major supermarkets do encounter greater usage of plastic bags since they try to give you one for your raw items to put within a bigger bag with all your other items, two for your bulky item in case the bag breaks and then another 20 for everything else. In fact, in 2005, a local newspaper reported that Singapore must be a nation of plastic bag junkies.

A National Environment Agency study revealed that Singaporeans use about 2.5 billion plastic bags each year – the equivalent of 19 million kilogrammes of waste in just plastic bags alone. And if you charge a 5 cents tax for each bag, that would come up to a total of $125 million a year. They can stop trying to increase the GST and just capitalize on our plastic addiction instead.

BYOB raised quite a furor on the forum page of the press and the same night, I was suddenly called up for a telephone conference with my sister and brother-in-law, seeking my “expert opinion” on monkey treehugging matters. Of course, what could be on their minds other than BYOB. The contention: with the BYOB, while people want to stop taking plastic bags, there is now a lack of plastic bags for bagging their rubbish.

Source: National Archives

One must understand, most Singaporeans live in high-rise government maintained public housing and the disposal of garbage is a particularly iffy issue. The same people who run the recycling program are also the people who take care of your solid waste, food waste and all things disposed. Being a tropical country, there is of course the issue of diseases being spread through vectors rummaging through decomposing garbage. So since young, we have been taught, in school no less, that we have to bag our rubbish in plastic bags before we dispose of it down the rubbish chute available within all our homes.

Source: National Archives

So in 1996, when ladies who are entirely too well dressed to be taking out the trash was advocating the correct disposal of garbage, they were also trying to tell people to sort out their trash. Not necessarily promoted side by side.

After 20 years of drilling this into our minds, they suddenly tell us they are going to deprive us of our free source of plastic bags and we should start having to pay for them. So of course the question of my family’s mind is “what in the world is the government thinking?” Even now, they are not putting two and two together, coming up short with only three. Most Singaporeans are not privy to what the government is planning and if only they string it together for all to understand then perhaps the campaign would not be a fruitless one.

All I can say is, to summarize a half hour conversation with them, reducing plastic bags is not a one off action. There are many interrelated issues which most people on the street don’t know of and springing a BYOB on people might just frustrate them. Paying for your plastic bags supposedly will deter those plastic junkies but habits of old die hard. It also helps people to realize the environmental cost involved in mindlessly taking plastic bags. Then maybe if they are feeling the pinch for having to buy garbage bags, it’ll make people mindful of how much waste they are creating everyday.

Most of all, it would be nice for the government agency to try to educate more instead of just springing yet another campaign on the people. After all, it took 20 years for them to start bagging their rubbish automatically but after 30 years of no littering campaign, they are still littering so what next?

4 Comments so far

  1. acroamatic (unregistered) on April 22nd, 2007 @ 12:25 pm

    Ah, you’re finally on MetBlogs! An insightful post about the plastic bags issue.

    Just playing Devil’s Advocate: So, if we don’t use plastic bags anymore, how do we dispose of our trash properly?

    Recycling has yet to become the norm here, so people are still going to use their chutes (or the common corridor chute in the newer flats). And the chutes mean packing our trash in plastic.

    While the medium-long term goal should be to educate and encourage recycling, what can the public do now?

    Speaking of which, perhaps those green Punggol flats should come with three recycling chutes!

  2. micamonkey (unregistered) on April 22nd, 2007 @ 12:50 pm

    actually that’s what my sis and brotherinlaw called to ask – what should they use if not plastic bags!

    There are alternatives I suppose or you could buy garbage bags, alternatively have a compost or use newspaper to contain certain wastes, etc.

    From an exhibition I saw, sembcorp is looking into having different chutes for recyclables vs food wastes :)

  3. Walter (unregistered) on April 23rd, 2007 @ 11:38 pm

    You know, this has been an issue which has been eating at me since the start of this whole Bring Your Own Bag campaign. I think having different chutes could be a cool idea but we still can’t just throw yesterday’s dinner down the chute without bagging it right?

  4. Donovan (unregistered) on May 7th, 2007 @ 3:55 pm

    I think to totally eradicate the use of plastic bags is not possible until the day we invent a biodegradable material with similar characteristics of plastic.

    Until then, we will still use plastic bags to contain our rubbish before dumping them down that chute. It is the most practical, convenient and efficient way to dispose of our refuse. However, the problem here is that we are using WAY TOO MANY plastic bags. Far more than what we would need to contain our refuse. micamonkey pointed it out well . When I go to a bookstore to purchase a book or pen, I always have to make a conscience request to not take a plastic bag.
    I believe we can just use enough plastic bags for our rubbish. Surely we would’nt try to fit a pocket sized plastic bag from the bookstore onto our rubbish bin right?

    Let us all be responsible residents of our only home called Earth and stop our over consumption of plastic bags.

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