Supermarkets to charge 5¢–10¢ per disposable plastic bag come mid-2023, NEA seeking public feedback

A 2018 study found that shoppers in Singapore take an average of 146 disposable carrier bags from supermarkets per person per year.

Fiona Tan | January 27, 2022, 06:10 PM

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Supermarkets may charge a minimum of five cents to 10 cents for each disposable bags come mid-2023, should the National Environment Agency's (NEA) new proposed policy kicks in.

NEA is now seeking feedback from members of the public on the proposed policy.

Members of the public can provide their views till Feb. 17.

How did the proposal come about?

The Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment (MSE) and NEA had engaged over 1,000 stakeholders since September 2020 in the development of this policy proposal, including the formation of a Citizen Workgroup which comprises of 55 members of the public from various backgrounds.

The consultation was done through a variety of platforms, such as focus group discussions, industry and public consultation sessions, and surveys, to address the excessive consumption of disposables in Singapore.

The Workgroup made their recommendations in January 2021, and one of them was to impose a charge on disposables.

MSE and NEA agreed to develop a charging model on disposable carrier bags in April 2021.

What constitutes a disposable carrier bag?

The disposable carrier bag which is subject to the charging model refers to "a bag that has handles that allow the bag to be carried".

Bags without handles and used to contain loose quantities of fresh or raw food, such as fruits, vegetables, meat, and seafood, that are sold without packaging, will not be charged under the new policy.

The proposed policy will stipulate "large supermarket operators" to charge for each disposable carrier bag issued at their checkout counters, regardless of the type of material used for the bag.

While the policy will not apply to other types of retail stores for now, NEA encouraged these retail stores to introduce a carrier bag charge, or consider similar charges.

Calling for feedback on proposed policy

The online feedback form is open from today (Jan. 27) until Feb. 17, for the public to submit their feedback on the following policy matters:

  • Charging model

The policy's concept is not new, and some local retailers have started charging for disposable bags on a per-transaction model.

NEA's policy, however, proposes for large supermarkets to charge consumers on a per-bag model, where the amount paid is proportional to the number of disposable carrier bags requested.

The agency reasoned that this model is "equitable and effective", and also discourages consumers from taking more disposable carrier bags than they need.

  • Charging amount

NEA is proposing for supermarkets to charge a minimum of five cents to 10 cents for each disposable carrier bag.

Compared to standard charges, the agency said this minimum amount gives supermarket operators the flexibility to adjust their charges.

  • Coverage of supermarket operators

NEA's proposed policy only applies to "large supermarket operators". These refer specifically to supermarkets with a higher annual revenue than the threshold stipulated.

Smaller supermarket operators whose revenue fall below the threshold need not implement a charge for disposable carrier bags.

However, NEA said the threshold stipulated should sufficiently cover a majority of supermarkets in Singapore.

  • Application on online supermarket purchases

Additionally, the agency proposed for its policy to not apply to online supermarkets.

This is because consumers lack the option of using their own bag for online grocery purchases, and at the same time, have little control on how many bags are used to pack these online purchases.

The agency said it will continue to study how to address packaging waste from general e-commerce in general with MSE.

  • Tracking and reporting of numbers

NEA proposed for supermarkets to track the number of disposable carrier bags issued, the total charges collected, and how the charges are utilised.

These data should be announced to the public.

  • Implementation period

Lastly, NEA proposed for the policy to take effect by the first half of 2023.

NEA believes the industry will have ample time to prepare for the policy's implementation.

Here's a summary of the policy details that the public can feedback on:

Table courtesy of NEA.

NEA said it will consider all the responses received by the closing date, and release a final report that summarises the public and its responses.

Towards Singapore Green Plan 2030 waste targets

A 2018 study by the Singapore Environment Council found that shoppers take 820 million disposable carrier bags from supermarkets within a year alone. This breaks down to an average of 146 disposable carrier bags per person.

More recently in 2019 and 2020, households and trade premises in Singapore threw away about 200,000 tonnes of disposables each year, of which approximately two-thirds were disposable bags.

NEA said this amount can fill up about 400 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Through mandating a disposable carrier bag charge, NEA said it hopes to discourage the excessive consumption of disposable carrier bags, and promote the use of reusable bags instead.

This will help to reduce the amount of disposable carrier bags taken, which are ultimately disposed, and reduce the amount of waste sent to Singapore's landfills.

The Singapore Green Plan 2030 aims to reduce the amount of waste to landfill per capita per day by 20 per cent by 2026. and 30 per cent by 2030.

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Top image by Fiona Tan