A plastic bag is used for 5minutes on average but requires more than a thousand years for it to decompose (Sharma,2008). After decomposition, the tiny particles continue to contaminate our water sources and threaten wildlife (West, n. d. ). Yet, the global usage of plastic bags hits an unprecedented annual rate of 1 trillion (Facts,n. d. ), with Singapore contributing 3 billion in 2011(Tay,2012). Hence, it is vital that we pay more attention to our environment by reducing this excessive usage.
This paper seeks to evaluate the effectiveness of plastic bags levy in Singapore, how to implement it and other alternatives to resolve excessive plastic bags usage. Plastic bags levy has proven its worthiness in some countries. Since Ireland implemented a “Plastax” in 2002 to charge 15 Euro cents tax per plastic carrier, it successfully reduced plastic usage by 90% (Convery & McDonnell & Ferreira, 2007). The levy was targeted at changing consumer’s behavior and charged at a right amount to stimulate consumers in bringing their own reusable bags when shopping to evade paying tax.
However, we should note that the use of product tax (plastic bag levy) will affect consumer’s behavior to a large extent and gaining stakeholders’ acceptance is crucial to its successful implementation. Having a series of extensive consultation with the affected stakeholders is central to its acceptance. Therefore, jurisdictions that wish to implement this policy need to take note of these factors that will affect the effectiveness of the levy. Next, we assess how stakeholders respond to the idea of levy in Singapore. In particular, retail sectors reflect a lack of motivation to implement a levy (Lee, 2012).
Many retailers are adopting the “wait and see” attitude when it comes to this debatable topic of implementing the levy. They fear losing their customers to competitors that do not charge a levy. This was evident in a case involving a major supermarket chain Sheng Siong Group as it would not charge for the bags since customers are likely to reject the extra costs (Lee & Goh, 2012). This could be attributed to the high price-sensitivity exhibited by Singaporeans, where they are ranked second in South-East Asia in noticing the changes in prices of grocery and food (Nielsen, 2011).
Due to the traits exhibited by Singaporeans, it is understandable why bigger retailers have their reserves about implementing the levy. Singapore Environment Council(SEC) should take steps to garner the support of the major stakeholders(retailers, government and consumers) likely to be affected. The policy of levy can be pushed to be legislated so consumers cannot evade the tax and relative competitiveness between retailers will be leveled. The levies collected could be kept by retailers to fund other green initiatives to facilitate the implementation process and also serves to be a form of motivation for them to adopt the policy.
Other than the retailers, another major stakeholder that requires attention is the consumers. According to a recent poll conducted by Yahoo! with regards to the proposition by SEC to impose a levy on plastic bags in Singapore, out of 15,000 participants, a majority of 66% voted against the idea (Teo, 2012). Singaporeans feel that it is their rights to be entitled to plastic bags when making purchases which could be attributed to their cultural practices.
Organizations that wish to impose a levy or ban the provision of plastic bags need to be aware of the cultural practices (Chua, 2012). In Singapore, it is compulsory for the bagging of household rubbish thus her citizens will tend to reuse the plastic bags for their garbage (Chua, 2012). This is one of the main reasons for the strong negative responses to the levy. Most Singaporeans also felt that one’s obligation to the public’s hygiene should not be charged. The implementation of the levy should be backed with an explanation of the rationale behind it.
Informational campaigns can be launched to describe the environmental impacts plastic bags might bring and the need for the levy. It does not mean that plastic bags are detrimental and should be eliminated but rather the levy serves as a reminder to consumers and have them shifted away from the “Use and Toss” culture (Tay, 2012). Singapore was not exactly slow in implementing rules to curb plastic bag usage (Lee, 2012). In fact, one of Singapore’s largest supermarket chains, Fairprice launched initiative as early as 2007 to discourage consumers from using plastic bags excessively.
It rewards consumers who bring their own bags a 10-cents rebate for every minimum purchase of ten dollars through its “Fairprice Green Rewards” program (Channelnewsasia, 2012). The initiative saved five to six million plastic bags during that two years period. Singaporeans may be more receptive to this concept since they are price sensitive. This is evident from another of FairPrice’s “Fairprice Cares! ” campaign in April 2012, saving a further 143,000 plastic bags in a week (Channelnewsasia, 2012). Therefore, if levy is so unpopular amongst
Singaporeans, the offer of rebates can be used as an alternative to it as it also fulfills the same purpose of reducing plastic bags usage. No doubt that neighboring countries like Malaysia and Hong Kong had implemented levies on plastic bags more efficiently than Singapore but results were not guaranteed and the root problem was not solved (Lee, 2012). In Hong Kong, the lofty 50-cent(USD $0. 06) per plastic bag policy implemented in 2009 yielded disheartening results. The Environmental Protection Department(EPD) revealed that the number of plastic bags discarded was not significantly reduced.
Hong Kong discarded 4. 4 billion plastic bags which was only 253 million fewer than that before the implementation of the levy (Cagape, 2011). In fact, it resulted in a shift towards the usage of heavier and thicker rubbish carriers as bin liners which defeated the purpose of having the levy (Chua, 2012). Suppliers are also trying to work around the loopholes of the system by tweaking their products designs, having them pre-packaged in plastic so as not to compromise their consumer’s convenience and have their sales affected (Cagape, 2011).
In fact, these plastics are even harder to recycle than produce. This just goes to show that if the various stakeholders do not know the purpose of having the levy and even with legislation passed for the levy implementation, the problems will not be mitigated. Awareness can be raised to preserve and protect our environment with regards to the growing concern of plastic bag usages, environmentalists can wreck their brains over the various solutions to these problems but ultimately it is up to the individuals to make a difference to our environment.
Be it levies imposed or rebates given, consumers have got to understand the rationale behind these efforts or measures put in place by the government or environmentalists. They serve not as a punishment but a reminder to consumers and to have them thinking twice about their using habits and to better discern between a need and a want. It also seeks to alert mankind about the risks posed to our ecology and our environment as a result of our living habits. If we do not step up to protect our environment then who will?