Saturday, April 11, 2009

Say NO To Plastic Bags

I close my eyes and try to imagine a modern world without plastic bags.... Err! I can't!!

Every year, people discard tons of plastic bags. Most of these made their way to landfills and incinerators. Those which went astray ended up choking the drains, cluttering streets, polluting water and causing harm to the environment in terms of visual blight.

It has been a long time since we started using plastic bags. The first plastic sandwich bags were introduced in 1957. In the 1970s, plastic bags became popular in department stores. Later, in the 1980s, they were widely used in the supermarkets too. Today, almost every purchase comes with a plastic bag or two and we cannot do without them.

Each time we bring home a plastic bag, we may not be conscious that we are bringing back a killer.

Every year, about 100,000 whales, seals, turtles and other marine animals are killed by plastic bags. They are victimised because we use about 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags every year. These bags were probably used for a short while but they take hundreds of years to break down.

In the recent years, the awareness of this lethal monster is increasing and the global war against plastic bag is gaining momentum. That is really nice but the tough question is how fast we can contain environmental damage to the Earth.

Many countries have taken action to discourage the use of plastic bags. Some of these have rallied to imposed taxes or ban them altogether. Countries which have said no to plastic bags include Australia, Ireland, South Africa, Taiwan, India and Bangladesh.

In 1994, Denmark created the first plastic bag tax. By 2005, consumption declined by more than 50%.

In 2002, the Republic of Ireland saw the success of imposing a tax of 15 cents for each plastic bag. In five months, the new measure helped to cut their use by more than 90% and raise millions of Euros in revenue.

In 2003, a northern state in India introduced a new law to put anyone who used plastic bags behind bars for seven years or a fine up to 100,000 rupees (US$2000). In the same year, South Africa also got rid of thin plastic bags by law.

In 2006, Butan (below), which put happiness at the heart of government policy, decided to ban plastic bags on the ground that they make their people less happy.

In 2007, San Francisco became the first city in the USA to ban plastic shopping bags. In the same year, Paris also joined the list to impose a ban with the rest of France following suit by 2010. Similarly in Belgium, the government introduced a tax on plastic bags.

In 2008, Shanghai in China took the first step to ban thin plastic bags to reduce pollution and save resources.

In Jan this year, South Australia became the first state in Australia to ban plastic shopping bags. In Spain, they hope to see the consumption of plastic bags down by half in 2009. Next year, Italy will ban the use of plastic bags after imposing a levy on it a decade ago.

Now, let's come back to Singapore.

According to the National Environment Agency (NEA), Singapore consume
s about 2.5 billion plastic bags a year. Since 2005, the debate about the use of plastic bags has been getting louder. As a baby step to create awareness, the first "Bring Your Own Bag Day" (BYOB) was marked on 18 April 2007. Since then, every first Wednesday of the month is also marked as the BYOB day.

Will this initial soft approach be a prelude to making plastic bags illegal or a stepping stone to the imposition of tax? I am not entirely sure although I do not rule them out.

This year, we mark the 2nd anniversary of BYOB. But, I must say that I am not seeing any visible result in the campaign so far.

What would it take for our lawmaker to introduce a ban? Is NEA actively checking on the consumers' behavior? Or, is this just a show so that Singapore does not look out of place amidst the rest of the world, which is fighting the global war against the use of plastic bags?

If a total ban on plastic bags is not feasible, will the government consider imposing a plastic bag tax? After all, we already have tobacco tax and liquor tax and one more sin tax would not be unthinkable. Well, perhaps not now but after the current economic situation improves.

Earth Day 2009 has just passed. Thousands of Singaporeans participated in the event on 28 Mar and voted for Earth. Some switched off their lights for an hour and others supported the cause in some other ways. The whole idea of Earth Day is to save the Earth. Similarly, Singapore can also play a more active role in cutting down the use of plastic bags for the same reason.

The solution is simple: Bring a reusable shopping bag with you all the time. It is almost effortless as it weighs much less than your mobile phone, iPod or PSP. Besides, it is also affordable and there is really no excuse not to have one. For years, I have been carrying a reusable bag with me. You can do the same too.

The next time you shop:

1. Use your own reusable bag, otherwise,
2. Decline bags for small purchases
3. Ask the cashiers to pack more purchases into the bags
4. Ask the cashiers to avoid double-bagging

Come on, you know you have been guilty. It's time for redemption.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The best reusable bags I ever had.

Certified 100% Organic Cotton
Made in USA
100% Biodegradable
Super Strong & Durable
Machine Washable