Annual supermarket plastic bag usage can fill 126 Gardens by the Bay: study

·Senior Reporter
(Getty Images file photo)
(Getty Images file photo)

Imagine the land area of 126 Gardens by the Bay. It is equivalent to laying out 820 million plastic bags from supermarkets that the population of Singapore uses each year.

That makes up almost half of a minimum of 1.76 billion plastic items that the population of Singapore is expected to use per year.

These startling statistics plus other data from an inaugural study released on Tuesday (31 July) by the Singapore Environment Council (SEC) underscored Singapore’s voracious appetite for consumer plastic items and its low recycling level.

Every day, more than 2 million plastic bags are taken from supermarkets, the study found.

“(Why we chose to focus on supermarkets is because) if you look at supermarket shopping, it is a major contributor to plastic bags, and something everybody goes for,” said Mohit Grover, executive director of risk advisory at Deloitte & Touche Enterprise Risk Services, the company commissioned to conduct the study.

About 14 per cent of 1,003 respondents surveyed use six or more plastic bags every time they visit the supermarket, out of which a quarter are above 60 years old.

About 35 per cent use between three and five plastic bags. On average, about two to four plastic bags are used by each person per shopping trip.

The study also showed that only 15 per cent of the respondents bring their own reusable bags to do their shopping, with women almost twice as likely to bring a reusable bag as men.

Only about two-thirds of the respondents will use plastic bags taken from supermarkets to bag and dispose of waste. About 11 per cent reuse the bags while two per cent prefer to recycle them.

“In Singapore, we are recycling six per cent of plastic, whereas in Europe for example, the EU average (for 2016) is about 30 per cent, the UK goes up to about 45 per cent. Clearly, there’s large room for Singapore as an overall eco-system to improve,” said Mohit.

Apart from a 17-question online survey conducted over six months from December 2017, the study also included a review of the landscape of recycling in Singapore, Europe and Asia as well in-depth interviews with nine stakeholders including schools, researchers, and waste management businesses.

The study highlighted the extent of consumer plastic use and the ways different plastic items are reused, recycled or discarded.

For instance, the study also found the population of Singapore is expected to use 467 million polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles each year, or one to three per person per week – enough to fill 94 Olympic-sized swimming pools. PET bottles are commonly used for drinks, sauces and marinades.

Another major source of plastic waste is polypropylene (PP) plastic disposable items, such as take-away containers, with the population of Singapore expected to use 473 million PP items per year, equivalent to the land mass of three Sentosa islands. This works out to one to three PP items per person per week.

On average, around 1 million of PET bottles and around 1 million PP plastic disposable items are used daily in Singapore.

(GRAPHIC: SEC)
(GRAPHIC: SEC)

Following the findings, the SEC will work with partners in a new campaign to encourage individuals to reduce their plastic use by one per day and to use not more than two plastic bags per trip to the supermarket, said Jen Teo, the council’s executive director.

“The key (message) is to choose reusable items – bring your own bag when shopping, avoid items packed in PP containers, use your own cutlery when taking food away, and take a refillable water bottle with you instead of buying bottled water,” Teo added.

The campaign, which will consist of marketing via social media and at various point-of-sales, will be launched next month and run until next year.

Among the first partners to come on board on the campaign are NTUC FairPrice and Coca-Cola, she added.

While the SEC has declined to comment further on the details of these partnerships, Teo told Yahoo News Singapore one area that is of immediate concern are hawker centres and food courts.

“For that, we are trying to work with very specific districts in Singapore,” said Teo, adding that another challenge they face would be collaborating with online food delivery companies to reduce their plastic packaging.

FairPrice announced last week that they will phase out their Green Rewards scheme – which offers customers a 10-cent rebate when they bring their own bags to shop at FairPrice stores – and replace it with the FairPrice Plastic Bag Management Programme.

As the supermarket chain moves towards almost tripling its savings of plastic bags to 30 million units per year by 2030, Jonas Kor, director of corporate communications and brand at FairPrice, said that certain initiatives under the new programme’s will be carried in tandem with the SEC’s campaign.

“We are looking very much into public education, awareness, and interaction as well as internal processes. It’s a bigger programme (than rebates) that we are implementing,” said Kor.

The study found that 70 per cent of respondents were not fully aware of the types of recyclable plastics, with 21 per cent not aware of the location of the nearest recycling bin and 45 per cent wanting more information on recyclable plastics.

Isabella Huang-Loh, chairman of the SEC, also stressed about changing the mindsets of those who are likely to use more plastic bags, such as those aged 60 and above, as well as men who are less likely to bring reusable bags.

“(For instance), we are working together with bag design companies to come up with a cool-looking reusable bag that men will carry in their pockets,” said Huang-Loh.

She also noted that based on the findings, plastic product makers can play a bigger part in recycling plastic.

“We should take advantage of available innovation or seek new ones to create a downstream market for recycling plastic in Singapore. For instance, there are already new technologies to convert plastic to fuel, and even use recycled plastic for 3D printing,” said Huang-Loh.

A more extensive research report on the study will be made available during the Singapore Environmental Achievement Awards, held in conjunction with SEC Conference Day on 30 August.

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