Archive for October, 2013

Plastic Bags and Managing Waste in Singapore

Saturday, October 5th, 2013

Reducing the use of plastic bags is the current hot topic. Should we start charging for plastic bags? Or should we ban the issue of bags on a certain day of the week?

If just getting rid of plastic bags is the issue, the Government can just initiate a total ban on plastic bags, like Beijing. People will grumble and complain at the inconvenience, but those living in Singapore are highly adaptable. They will get used to it in time and start bringing their own bags or just go without one. Ikea has successfully implemented this.

(Yes, we are highly adaptable. Look at the ever increasing ERP and COEs. We complain and complain and complain, but the next day, someone out there is paying and using the system. Yes, it’s totally doable with plastic bags.)

“But if you ban plastic bags, then what are we suppose to use to bag our wastes? It seems ridiculous to have to buy brand new trash bags, instead of reusing a supermarket bag. People might resort to throwing their trash down the chute without a bag. I pity those living on the 2nd floor!”

Okay, so maybe a total ban on plastic bags is not practical. Instead, we should ban small plastic bags. Those bags have virtually no chance of being reused. Likewise, those g-string like cup holders usually goes straight into the bin after a single use.

Supermarkets and retail outlets should give people the choice: paper or plastic? Paper would contribute to the landfills like plastic, but paper would decompose. Plastics will not.

Or maybe we can simply reduce our waste, thus reducing the number of plastic bags used.

While I was living in the US, the truck only came once a week to collect the trash. Yet a normal household survived. The trash bin weren’t overflowing. We would faithfully push our bins out to the street once a week, and remembered to collect it at the end of the day, or be yelled at by the neighbours. Nobody likes seeing bins on the sidewalk.

One trash bin full a week? How is that possible? In landed estates in Singapore, trash collection trucks have to come daily – even on Sundays.

garbage-250x175

It’s actually quite simple. Almost all houses in the US are fitted with a garbage disposal unit in their sink. It “shreds food waste into pieces small enough—generally less than 2 mm (0.079 in)—to pass through plumbing. (wikipedia)”  It’s also what horror movies are made out of, where the victim reaches into the disposal unit to retrieve a ring or something, and suddenly it switches on by itself and … …. …. ” I digress.

I remembered the first time I saw the garbage disposal unit being used. My uncle was clearing out the fridge, and he wanted to get rid of a half eaten pie. He stuffed the whole pie down the hole and switched on the unit. My jaw dropped. You can do what?! Since then, any left over food from the plate, food preparation scraps, or anything organic was usually last seen in the black hole, grinded to bits. The only exception were things with bones, like chicken. Fish bones were okay though. Just like this, a bulk of waste is removed, and no trash bags are needed for these waste.

I’m not sure what Singapore laws are like concerning garbage disposal units, but it would certainly help sort organic trash and not, and reduce the amount of trash we throw down the chutes each day. Cockroaches would probably have less incentives to stick around too.

We can’t get rid of plastic bags totally. But perhaps we can change the types of plastic bags we allow. There are now bio-plastics available, which serves all the functions of a normal plastic bag, but is biodegradable and will break down in 9-12 months if exposed to the elements. Actually, we should encourage all disposable plastics used to be biodegradable, not just plastic bags, but plastic boxes, cups, cutlery and even plastic packaging that our electronics are packed in.

The exceptions should of course be plastic lunch boxes, or water containers. Those kinds of plastics have a different standard to meet anyway.

In conclusion, maybe the solution should be this:

1) Encourage recycling – waste should be sorted into recyclables and not

2) Reduce organic waste through the installation of garbage disposal units

3) Ban plastic bags which will probably not be reused (eg. small plastic bags)

4) Have retail outlets offer the choice of paper or plastic bags.

5) Ban non-biodegradable plastics.

Problem solved?