National Environment Agency - Environmental Protection Policy Department
- Consultation Period:
- 27 Jan 2022 - 17 Feb 2022
- Closed - Summary of Responses
1. On 27 January 2022, the National Environment Agency (NEA) published a public consultation paper on the REACH portal to seek feedback on the proposed disposable carrier bag charge at supermarkets in Singapore. The public consultation paper outlined the following policy proposals for public feedback:
2. The public consultation closed on 17 February 2022. A total of 4,621 responses were received. A summary of the feedback on the proposals as well as issues raised, and NEA’s responses, are set out below.
Summary of Feedback and NEA’s Responses
Proposed Charging Model – Charge Per Bag
3. In the public consultation paper, two charging models were described, namely a per-bag model and a per-transaction model. Many respondents preferred a per-bag charging model as this was perceived as a fairer model where consumers would pay for what they used. This would also discourage shoppers from taking many bags and double-bagging grocery items. Some respondents preferred a per-transaction model and cited reasons such as reducing the cost impact on those making large purchases and the impracticality of bringing many reusable bags when shopping. Other respondents suggested a hybrid model whereby bags would be charged after a certain number were given out for free, to minimise the cost impact.
4. NEA agrees that a per-bag charging model is equitable and effective. A per-transaction charge could encourage overconsumption as it is a flat fee regardless of the number of bags used. This is especially so if consumers feel they are entitled to more bags since they had paid a fee. Compared to charging after a certain number of bags, charging from the first bag would encourage shoppers to always bring their own bags when shopping.
Proposed Charging Amount – 5 to 10 Cents Per Bag
5. Many supported a charge of 5c or 10c per bag, with some suggesting amounts greater than 10c. Several respondents noted that 5c was reasonable and a good start, in view of the rising cost of living and given that the charge would apply to all supermarket shoppers including the lower-income and elderly. Those who suggested a larger amount felt that this would create more awareness and engender a rapid and greater change in behaviour. A few felt that 5–10c would not present sufficient deterrence especially among higher income shoppers.
6. NEA has noted the views on the charge amount. NEA proposed that the minimum charge be set low at 5c per bag, to moderate the cost impact on consumers including low-income households, while encouraging them to be mindful of the number of disposable carrier bags they take. The minimum charge would be reviewed after assessing the effectiveness of the 5c charge in reducing the number of disposable carrier bags consumed.
Proposed Coverage of Supermarket Operators – Supermarket Operators with Annual Revenue Above A Stipulated Threshold
7. The respondents who supported the proposal generally noted that covering the majority of supermarkets would be sufficient to make an impact as well as change consumer behaviour, while the smaller supermarkets need not be burdened. However, others supported extending the requirement to all supermarkets or retailers as a more effective way to change consumer behaviour.
8. For a start, NEA proposed to make it a requirement for supermarket operators with an annual turnover of more than $100 million to implement a disposable carrier bag charge. This would cover major supermarkets such as NTUC FairPrice, Cold Storage, Giant, Sheng Siong, and Prime. Supermarkets are frequented by the public and thus have a relatively broad reach that could nudge shoppers to foster the habit of bringing their own bag regardless of whether the shop imposes a bag charge. Large supermarket operators would also have scale to implement the requirements effectively. Supermarket operators with an annual turnover of less than S$100 million and other retailers can voluntarily charge for bags, just as many retailers are already doing.
Whether to Apply Bag Charge to Online Purchases
9. On the proposal not to apply the disposable carrier bag charge to online grocery shopping, many respondents agreed. They noted that consumers had no control over the number of disposable carrier bags used and alternatives such as reusable carrier bags or containers were currently not offered by companies for delivery and return. The respondents who were of the view that a bag charge should be applied to online grocery shopping felt that doing so would send a consistent message, while noting that online grocery purchases have been increasing, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Some noted that cardboard boxes were often used for delivery and hence items could be packed into the boxes without being individually bagged, while others recognised that focusing on disposable carrier bags alone may not suffice as other types of packaging are commonly used in delivery, such as cardboard boxes and protective packaging (e.g. bubble wrap). Many felt that the onus was on companies to reduce the delivery packaging, with some holding the view that disposable carrier bags should not be used for deliveries.
10. NEA agrees that customers currently have very few alternatives or no choice in the types or amount of packaging, including disposable carrier bags, used for delivery. NEA also agrees that the issue of packaging for online grocery purchases extends beyond disposable carrier bags. Further study and consultation would be needed to understand the implications of charging for disposable carrier bags, as companies may shift toward using other types of packaging for delivery, which may not necessarily be better for the environment. There are also practical issues to consider for reusable packaging like returnable crates, such as potentially longer delivery times and ensuring that the crates are returned by customers.
11. The Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment (MSE) and NEA will study how best to address packaging waste from e-commerce, including from online grocery shopping, as we develop the Extended Producer Responsibility framework for packaging waste. NEA will also develop guidelines for supermarkets on reducing packaging for the delivery of online purchases.
Proposed Tracking and Public Disclosure of Information – Number of Bags Issued, Amount of Charge Proceeds Collected, and Usage of Proceeds
12. Many respondents supported the proposal to require supermarket operators to track and publicly disclose information on the number of bags issued, the amount of charge proceeds collected, and how the charge proceeds are used. Some noted that transparency was important and sharing the information would build trust with the public and help to change consumer behaviour. Some also suggested publicising the information at supermarket outlets, websites, and media channels; and collating the information on a government website for education and awareness. Respondents who disagreed felt that the requirement would be administratively challenging and add to costs.
13. NEA agrees that mandatory declarations will ensure transparency and accountability in the use of the proceeds. NEA proposed to require affected supermarket operators to publicly disclose information on the number of bags issued, amount of proceeds collected from the bag charge, and how the proceeds are used.
Proposed Implementation Period – By First Half of 2023
14. Many respondents preferred that the charge be implemented by the first half of 2023. Some were keen to see the charge implemented as soon as possible, with a few suggesting Earth Day or World Environment Day on 22 April or 5 June 2022 respectively. However, there were others who were of the view that the charge should be delayed, given that livelihoods were still affected by the COVID-19 pandemic as well as rising inflation.
15. NEA has noted these views and proposed that the charge come into effect in mid-2023 to address the abovementioned concerns about livelihoods and inflation, while allowing operators sufficient time to prepare for implementation.
Other Issues and Suggestions Raised
Need for Disposable Bags for Rubbish Disposal
16. A common concern raised was that households needed disposable bags to bag their waste. The disposable bag charge will not remove access to disposable bags. Residents should continue with the responsible practice of bagging waste before disposal.
17. Disposable bags, including those for the bagging of fresh produce such as fruits and fish, will still be available from supermarkets as well as other retail outlets. Households can consider repurposing packaging from the products they purchase for bagging their rubbish. They could also look at reducing the amount of waste they dispose of, for example, by reducing food waste and recycling more.
Impact on Lower-Income Households
18. NEA is mindful of the potential impact the bag charge may have on lower-income households. Keeping the minimum charge low will help moderate the cost impact. NEA will also encourage supermarket operators and other organisations to adopt initiatives to lessen the potential impact of the charge, such as incentives or initiatives to encourage customers to bring their own bags, or distribution of reusable bags.
Supermarket Operators Profiteering from the Charge
19. The intent of the charge is to encourage consumers to adopt sustainable habits and bring our own bags when shopping at supermarkets and other stores. To uphold accountability and transparency in the use of proceeds, NEA proposed to require supermarket operators to track and disclose the number of bags issued, and the amount and usage of the charge proceeds. Supermarket operators will be strongly encouraged to channel the charge proceeds to environmental or social causes and consider initiatives to support lower-income families.
20. This approach gives supermarket operators the autonomy to decide how best to apply the charge proceeds, which may include their ongoing charitable programmes or bring-your-own-bag incentives. However, if supermarket operators end up largely keeping the proceeds as profit, NEA will consider mandating that operators apply the charge proceeds to good causes.
Suggestions to Provide Biodegradable or Paper Bags Instead of Plastic Bags
21. All disposable carrier bags, regardless of whether they are made of plastic, paper, or biodegradable plastic, are incinerated at our waste-to-energy plants, and not landfilled directly in Singapore. As such, the potential environmental benefits of using biodegradable materials (e.g. paper, plant-based materials) cannot be realised in Singapore.
22. NEA had previously commissioned a life-cycle assessment study on carrier bags and food packaging in Singapore’s context. Findings show that each type of packaging material results in different environmental impact such as global warming, high water consumption or land use change during their production, transportation, and disposal. Therefore, replacing disposable plastic bags with paper or biodegradable plastic alternatives will not result in a better environmental outcome. Mandating a switch to disposable carrier bags made of non-plastic materials would also not change behaviour and reduce the consumption of disposable carrier bags.
Suggestions to Require Supermarket Operators to Provide Bring-Your-Own-Bag Incentives
23. Based on feedback from our industry consultations, it could be confusing and operationally challenging for supermarket operators to implement both a charge per disposable carrier bag and a rebate for customers who bring their own bags. This could lead to disputes at check-out counters and longer queue times for customers.
24. Furthermore, different supermarket operators have different customer profiles and considerations. By not prescribing mandatory monetary rebates, supermarket operators would have the flexibility to come up with suitable incentives to encourage their customers to bring their own bags, which could be in the form of loyalty points, tokens, cash rebates, or discounts.
25. On suggestions to require rebates in lieu of a charge, NEA notes that the disposable carrier bag charge has proven to be highly effective in overseas jurisdictions. Bag charges in Hong Kong, the United Kingdom, Taiwan, and the Netherlands reduced the consumption of disposable bags by about 60 to 90 per cent. In addition, supermarket operators here that had implemented rebates for customers who brought their own bags and spent a minimum amount per transaction, had discontinued the rebate scheme citing its limited effectiveness in reducing disposable carrier bag usage. A rebate might not be as effective as a charge, as the shopper could continue with their usual shopping habit of using disposable carrier bags without any consequence. However, when shoppers see that they will be charged for a bag, they are more likely to pause and reconsider their need for the bag.
26. NEA will encourage supermarket operators to voluntarily offer incentives or adopt other initiatives to promote the habit of bringing our own bags.
27. Respondents brought up other suggestions, such as providing space at supermarket check-out counters for shoppers to pack groceries into their own bags; self-checkout counters without disposable carrier bags; providing used cardboard boxes for shoppers to carry groceries; and allowing the public to suggest good causes or initiatives that supermarkets could channel the proceeds towards. NEA will raise these suggestions with the relevant parties.
28. NEA thanks all respondents for taking the time to submit their valuable feedback. The points raised have been taken into consideration when finalising the design of the policy. More info on the policy, including the findings of a public survey of around 1,000 Singapore residents, can be found here. Climate action and environmental protection is a collective responsibility, and the disposable carrier bag charge will encourage all Singaporeans to adopt sustainable consumption habits in their daily lives.
Public Consultation on Disposable Carrier Bag Charge at Supermarkets
1 The National Environment Agency (NEA) is inviting members of the public to provide feedback on the proposed disposable carrier bag charge at supermarkets in Singapore.
2 In 2019 and 2020, households and trade premises in Singapore threw away about 200,000 tonnes of disposables annually, which is enough to fill up about 400 Olympic-sized swimming pools. Of this, about two-thirds were disposable bags. A 2018 study by the Singapore Environment Council also found that shoppers take 820 million disposable carrier bags from supermarkets alone a year, translating to an average of 146 bags per person.
3 NEA had previously commissioned a life-cycle assessment study on carrier bags and food packaging in Singapore’s context. The study found that disposables, regardless of whether they are made of paper, plastics, or biodegradable plastics, impact the environment when they are produced, transported, and disposed of. Curbing their excessive consumption will help to reduce Singapore’s carbon emissions when they are incinerated in our waste-to-energy plants, conserve natural resources and reduce waste sent to the Semakau Landfill.
4 To co-create solutions to reduce excessive consumption of disposables, the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment (MSE) and the National Environment Agency (NEA) convened a Citizens’ Workgroup in September 2020, comprising 55 members of the public from diverse backgrounds. One of the Workgroup's key recommendations is a charge for disposable carrier bags at supermarkets. In MSE and NEA’s response to the recommendations, MSE and NEA agreed to develop an appropriate charging model for a disposable carrier bag charge at supermarkets.
5 Over 150 countries and jurisdictions, including some states in Malaysia, have already implemented or will be implementing a charge or ban on disposable carrier bags or single-use plastic bags. In Hong Kong, the Netherlands, and Taiwan, a plastic bag charge resulted in about 80%, 70%, and 60% decrease respectively in the number of plastic bags given out. A disposable bag charge in the United Kingdom achieved between 70 to 95% reduction in the number of disposable bags used. About 70% of Japanese shoppers refused plastic bags after a charge was imposed in Japan.
6 In Singapore, many retailers have already begun to charge for disposable carrier bags. Some supermarkets such as NTUC FairPrice, Don Don Donki, and Little Farms have also either started bag charge trials or have already implemented charging for disposable carrier bags. There is generally strong public support for these voluntary initiatives due to a growing awareness of the need to, and desire to curb excessive consumption of disposable carrier bags.
Disposable Carrier Bag Charge at Supermarkets
7 In response to the Citizens’ Workgroup’s recommendation, the Government proposes to make it a legal requirement by the first half of 2023 for large supermarket operators to charge for disposable carrier bags issued at their checkout counters, regardless of the type of material used for the bag. For a start, it will not be mandatory to charge for disposable carrier bags at other types of retail stores other than the large supermarkets. Nonetheless, NEA will continue to encourage retail stores which have already introduced voluntary carrier bag charges to continue to do so, and others which have yet to introduce a carrier bag charge to consider similar charges.
8 A disposable carrier bag refers to a bag that has handles that allow the bag to be carried. Bags without handles, such as those used to bag loose quantities of fresh or raw food (e.g. fruits, vegetables, meat, and seafood) that is sold without packaging, will not be covered under the mandatory charge.
Proposed Areas for Feedback
Proposed charging model
9 NEA seeks your views on the proposal for supermarket operators to stipulate a minimum charge for each disposable carrier bag provided (i.e., charge per bag) at supermarkets. Charging per bag is an equitable and effective charging model, as the amount paid will be proportional to the number of disposable carrier bags taken. Stipulating a minimum charge, as opposed to a standard charge, also provides flexibility to supermarket operators who may wish to charge a higher amount.
10 Among the local retailers that have voluntarily started charging for disposable carrier bags, we are aware of a few that charge bags on a per-transaction basis. This means that if a shopper needs disposable carrier bags, they will be charged a standard amount per transaction, regardless of how many bags they need. However, such a per-transaction model may encourage shoppers to take more bags than they need. The per-bag charging model is also adopted by most, if not all, other countries or cities in the world that charge for disposable bags.
Proposed charging amount
11 NEA seeks your views on a proposed minimum charge of 5 to 10 cents per bag. Such a nudge strikes a balance between encouraging shoppers to reduce the number of disposable carrier bags they take and minimising the cost impact on shoppers who make large purchases and lower-income households.
Proposed coverage of supermarket operators
12 NEA seeks your views on the proposal to subject supermarket operators with annual revenue that is above a stipulated threshold to the requirements of charging for bags at their outlets . This means that the supermarket operators with revenues above a certain threshold would have to comply with the legislative requirements, but not small supermarket operators whose revenues fall below the threshold. The threshold stipulated should cover a majority of supermarkets in Singapore.
Whether to apply bag the charge to online purchases
13 NEA seeks your views on the proposal not to apply the disposable carrier bag charge to online grocery purchases. As customers do not have the option of using their own bags for online grocery purchases, and have little say on the number of bags used to package their purchases, no charge is proposed for such purchases. MSE and NEA will continue to study how best to address packaging waste from e-commerce in general, including from online grocery shopping.
Proposed tracking and reporting of information
14 NEA seeks your views on the proposal for supermarket operators to be required to track and publicly disclose information on the number of bags they issue, the amount of charge proceeds they collect, and how they use the charge proceeds.
Proposed implementation period
15 NEA seeks your views on the proposal that the mandatory disposable carrier bag charge at supermarkets takes effect by the first half of 2023. This will help contribute towards our objective in the Singapore Green Plan 2030 to reduce the amount of waste to landfill per capita per day by 20 per cent by 2026, while providing sufficient time for the industry to prepare for implementation.
Summary of proposed details for feedback
|Detail of Policy||Proposal|
|Charging model||Charge per bag|
|Charging amount||Minimum charge of 5 to 10 cents per bag|
|Coverage of supermarket operators||Supermarket operators with annual revenue above a stipulated threshold|
|Whether to apply charge to online purchases||In-store purchases at supermarket outlets covered; online grocery shopping not covered|
|Tracking and reporting of information||Supermarket operators must track and publicly disclose the number of bags they issue, the amount of charge proceeds they collect, and how they use the charge proceeds|
|Implementation period||By first half of 2023|
16 We invite the public to share your views on the proposals with us.
17 After the consultation closes on 17 February 2022, we will publish a summary of the feedback received and our responses on this website, when ready.