In response to MP Louis Ng’s call to ban single-use plastics and levy charges on plastic bags, Senior Minister of State for Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor said that the government’s approach is for Singapore “to reduce excessive consumption of all types of packaging, including plastics used by businesses and individuals.”

On Monday, Ng spoke in Parliament, urging the government to “do more” to solve Singapore’s worrying chronic plastic use and wastage problem. Ng emphasized the need to move “towards a plastic-lite Singapore” by taking action. He suggested a ban on all single-use plastic in the public sector and said charges should be levied on all plastic bags, in order to address what he described as “an urgent public safety issue”, not just for the environment but for the health of all Singaporeans as well.

Ng cited how Singapore’s “throwaway culture” is so ingrained in the nations habits, which he feels will not change unless charges for single-use carrier bags are implemented. Also, Singapore’s plastic waste problem has been increasing, with Semakau Island, the city-state’s only landfill, filling at an alarming rate.

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“Even when I bring my own reusable bag to the supermarket, the cashier sometimes puts my groceries first into a plastic bag, and then into my reusable bag. We really need to start thinking about our plastic bag use,” Ng said.

Ng acknowledged that exemptions can be made for hygiene in the case of bagging fresh produce like raw meat or seafood, and “to bin their trash, maintaining the cleanliness and safety of our rubbish chutes and waste disposal system”.

Singapore’s approach to dealing with plastic waste, according to Ng — which is to incinerate it all — only deals with the symptoms of the problem and not the root of it, which is to “cut plastic waste by cutting plastic use.”

Senior Minister of State for Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor responded by saying that charges on plastic bags are examples of “quick fixes” that may not work.

She said the government’s approach is “long-term [and] holistic” and more centered on educating the public, dealing instead with excessive plastic consumption by building “a national consciousness to care for the environment.”

Multiple green groups have insisted that Singapore introduce legislation to regulate plastic pollution, following in the footsteps of other Asian countries such as China, India and Malaysia, but Khor defended the government, saying “it is never our practice in policymaking to simply follow what other countries have done.”

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“We will not hesitate to legislate where necessary. But we will do so by taking a pragmatic and considered approach that suits our local context,” said Khor.

Khor reiterated the overlooked fact that there is no better substitution to single-use plastic bags, and “substituting them with other materials may not be more environmentally friendly as some may perceive.”

She reaffirmed the government’s aim to instill in every Singaporean “a national consciousness” to be mindful of the effects their actions have on the environment and encourage citizens and businesses “to take action, even beyond what the regulations require”.

“This process may take longer,” said Khor. “But this is the right way; the positive effects will go beyond plastic bags, beyond packaging, beyond waste management to areas including climate action.”