SINGAPORE: As seven FairPrice and Cheers outlets began charging for plastic bags in a month-long trial starting Monday (Sep 16), shoppers CNA spoke to were mixed about its waste-cutting impact. 

Until Oct 16, shoppers have to pay 20 cents per transaction at the participating FairPrice, FairPrice Finest and FairPrice Extra stores if they want plastic carriers with which to bag their groceries, and 10 cents per transaction at the Cheers and FairPrice Xpress outlets. 

The proceeds will be donated to the Singapore Children’s Society and The Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund. 

One customer, who had just paid 20 cents for two plastic bags at the FairPrice Xtra in Hougang One, said the move should have been implemented sooner. 

READ: FairPrice to charge for plastic bags at selected outlets in month-long trial

READ: Going “nude” – UK supermarkets test plastic-free zones

The housewife, who only wanted to be referred to as Ms Moralis, also said she thought the fee was too low if the aim was to stop Singaporeans from using plastic bags. 

“It’s just 20 cents. For most people, it’s almost nothing. If they want people to stop using, it should be more expensive,” said Ms Moralis. 

When CNA visited the FairPrice Finest outlet in Zhongshan Mall, cashiers were seen informing customers of the newly implemented plastic bag charge and suggesting that they buy a reusable bag for S$1 instead.

Cashiers were also seen double bagging heavy and wet items like milk and rice. 

A customer of the outlet, Ms Vivienne Yue, said: “I think the charge should be per bag, not per transaction. I don’t know if this would really incentivise people to bring their own bag.”

plastic bags at zhongshan

The FairPrice Finest at Zhongshan Mall is one of seven participating outlets for the month-long trial. (Photo: Ang Hwee Min) 

​​​​​​​

The housewife brings eight to 10 reusable bags to the outlet every week to buy groceries and has been doing so for years.

“The 20 cents won’t stop the double bagging or giving of plastic bags for single item purchases. If they charge per bag, the customer might say ‘no, I just need one’. It’s enough to just fit everything in one, they’re not likely to take five bags for five items,” she said. 

“I notice the cashiers also always double bag and I always tell them they don’t need to. (It’s also good) for the cashiers to know what to tell customers.” 

Ms Yue pointed out that not all shoppers have the habit of bringing a reusable bag everywhere they go and developing that habit is not easy. 

She also highlighted that not all grocery shopping trips are planned. 

“Sometimes I don’t plan to go to the supermarket and I’m not carrying my bags. And if I don’t have my bags then I’ll either stuff it into my own bag or take a plastic bag if I really have to,” said Ms Yue. 

“20 cents is probably okay to make the consumers think twice about taking a bag. It takes a long time to remember to pack the bag, so people who don’t bring one out may feel a pinch every time they go out and spend the 20 cents,” she said. 

Non-profit organisation Zero Waste SG, which is collaborating with FairPrice on the month-long trial, said cashiers will only give out the number of plastic bags needed for the goods purchased and will not allow customers to take more than that per transaction. 

Zero Waste SG volunteers will also be at participating outlets to share about the initiative. 

reusable fruit bag

Housewife Vivienne Yue even brings her own reusable bag for fruits, instead of using the plastic bags provided for fresh produce. (Photo: Ang Hwee Min) 

“We hope that this charge can be increased to per bag or to make things more palatable, maybe the first three to five bags can be free and the charge applies to additional bags,” said Zero Waste SG manager Pek Hai Lin. 

Mr Pearce Tan, 20, who works in the area and often buys snacks at Zhongshan Mall, was not aware that there would be a one-month plastic bag charge. 

He did not bring his own bag to the outlet and paid 20 cents for a plastic bag. 

“When I go grocery shopping I bring a reusable bag, but usually when I come here I don’t really always plan to go shopping. It’s on the way back from lunch and then I realise I need to grab this and that,” he said. 

“But 20 cents per transaction is quite cheap, so I’m okay with buying it. I will bring this back to my office and reuse it anyway,” he added.

Ms Pek said that the “ultimate goal” is to change people’s behaviour and habits. 

“So far I’ve observed that the sentiment is still quite okay. (People) are quite receptive and we can see an immediate change in behaviour and customers bringing their own bags,” she said.  

As for concerns over the efficacy of a campaign that only targets consumers, Ms Pek said: “Even though industries are the ones who might make a bigger impact in terms of reducing the use of resources, customers still drive the demand for the goods and services that the industries provide. 

“I think we definitely have to push from both sides for it to be sustainable in the long-term.”

READ: We are on the cusp of a plastic recycling revolution, a commentary

READ: Biodegradable plastic alternatives not necessarily better for Singapore, say experts

NTUC FairPrice CEO Seah Kian Peng told reporters on Monday that the supermarket chain thought it was “the right time for (it) to do something different”. 

In addition to the trial, NTUC FairPrice will be conducting a consumer sentiment survey, he said. 

“At the end of this one month, we will put all this together and see how we should rework … or come up with a new scheme that we can then implement across the island,” he added. 

When asked why the retailers charged per transaction instead of per bag, Mr Seah said the team wanted to “make things simple”. 

“I personally also understand that plastic bags in Singapore do have other uses. How we get rid of plastic bags is also quite different from how other countries dispose of their plastic bags, so I think we need to take this into account,” he said. 

He stressed that public awareness and education are the overall goal of FairPrice’s green initiatives. 

“I think the real success will be when each and every one of us knows that we all have a part to play,” he said. 

“Imagine if Singapore is one of the few countries where we are able to have this reusable bag habit not born by legislation. I think that will be something that all of us will be proud of,” he added.