Protect environment with tax on plastic bags
19 March 2008Straits Times
(c) 2008 Singapore Press Holdings Limited
I REFER to Thursday's article, 'Britons will soon have to pay for plastic bags'. The problem with plastic bags is that they are perceived to be free, whereas in reality they impose real costs to the environment, in terms of consumption of scarce petroleum resources, as well as their disposal. And because of this perception, there is no real incentive for individuals to curb their consumption.
According to the Singapore Environment Council, Singapore uses about 2.5 billion plastic shopping bags every year, which amounts to about 2,500 bags per family per year. Singapore sends most of its waste to incinerators, which means that a lot of that plastic goes up in the air releasing harmful dioxins. The rest may end up in drains, public places, rivers and canals, nature trails, beaches, mangroves and even pose a threat to marine life.
As a consumer, I would like to see more alternatives to plastic bags. I like to carry a cloth bag and a trolley to the supermarket. I have to admit though that I do take a few plastic bags home from the supermarket from time to time, which are used to line my kitchen bins, so that the wet waste can go down the chute. I hope supermarkets will make available, at a cost to the consumer, vegetable source-based (as opposed to petroleum-based) biodegradable carrier bags/bin liners so even the need for those few plastic carrier bags is eliminated.
I also feel that Singapore can take more radical steps and go beyond the voluntary initiatives by supermarkets to reduce the use of plastic bags, such as the introduction of a tax on plastics, like Britain. We can look to the successes of other countries. Ireland introduced a tax on plastic bags in 2002 equivalent to about 47 Singapore cents. Within weeks, there was a drop in plastic bag use of over 90 per cent. Countries such as Taiwan, South Africa and Bangladesh have banned the use of plastic bags. Some African nations are seeking to ban plastic bags as they clog sewer systems and float in the ocean, endangering marine life. Australia wants to ban free plastic bags by the end of the year, though it is still working out how to do it.
Such a radical step may meet initial resistance, but I am sure enlightened Singaporeans will see the long-term benefits to the environment, and come up with ingenious ways to make their shopping trips, plastic bag-free.
Bhavani Prakash (Ms)
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