Getting Rid of Disposable Plastic Bags in Singapore

PlasticBags leadXL

-Did you know that every Singaporean uses 584 disposable plastic bags per year, on average? That’s about 3 times as many as used by the average European. We see it happening every day at our local Cold Storage or FairPrice supermarkets: without asking their customers a single thing, cashiers automatically start packing groceries into thin disposable plastic bags, supplied for free. Often using double or triple bags to pack heavier things.

Last September, the ESPI Singapore team turned this vexation into an #espimakerdays project: how could we get rid of this abundance of disposable plastic bags in Singapore? team1 The Espi team at work in Singapore. team2 The Espi team interviewing supermarket customers about their bags usage.

NTUC FairPrice seems to have their heart in the right place: they tried to do their bit in the past decade helping to diminish the usage of disposable bags. Their BYOB (Bring Your Own Bag) initiative since 2007 saved 6 to 9 million plastic bags on a yearly basis.
But if you take into account that this is about 0.3% of the total yearly usage of plastic bags, it’s only a tiny drop in the plastic soup. We can see where they take the wrong turn in their strategy: at the checkout counter. This appears to be window dressing rather than a well executed behavioural change program. FP checkout A common sight in Singaporese supermarkets at the checkout counter. FP green checkout A Green Checkout at FairPrice: the reusable bags are large and clumsy, the checkout is closed most of the time.

Cold Storage, the other large supermarket chain in Singapore, currently runs a campaign on all their free plastic bags with the motto “Refuse. Reuse. Recycle.” It’s rather cynical to print this onto these disposable plastic bags that are handed out by the dozens at the checkout counters. This is just not the right approach. CS plastic bag These thin plastic bags are too small and too flimsy for garbage disposal, so how can you reuse and recycle these? CS reusable bags Reusable bags can be bought at Cold Storage for as little as 99 cents, but they are ugly, large and stiff; unpractical for daily use.

We set out to develop a strategy that could really work if all parties in the supply chain would work together. We also created new designs for reusable bags that are truly practical for daily use and make their users look really good as well. Check out our Reusable Bags Project presentation here

bag1 “You are so arrogant”

bag2 “I got delegated"

bag3 “I was not invited!”

bag4 “I am so bored”

We’re now engaging into conversations with relevant people in Singapore that can hopefully help us bring this initiative further. You can help us as well by spreading the word. Thank you in advance! 

If you’re interested in knowing more or have suggestions, get in touch with Edo van Dijk.