Shopping habits will change if charges for disposable bags kick in: Experts

SINGAPORE – If supermarkets charge for disposable carrier bags in the future, consumers will change their shopping habits, said business experts.

They said consumers might visit smaller stores more, be more mindful of the number of bags they use for their purchases, or buy their groceries online.

They said this following the announcement on Saturday (April 10) that the Government will start public consultations on an appropriate charging model for disposable carrier bags at supermarkets.

This is part of efforts to cut the use of disposables in Singapore.

Associate Professor Lawrence Loh from the National University of Singapore’s Business School predicts that some customers may go to smaller shops instead of supermarkets when making small purchases, to avoid the carrier bag charge.

“As a related example, I noticed that some customers tend to avoid outlets that require SafeEntry check-in and go to those that have less hassle – this is so especially for quick small purchases,” he added.

Associate Professor Sharon Ng from the Nanyang Technological University’s business school said the charge may push some customers to buy their groceries online as online purchases “will either come in a bag or box, and it may be difficult for online retailers to charge for bags as the consumer is not the one packing the bags”.

To further sustainability, Associate Professor Seshan Ramaswami from the Singapore Management University said: “The online deliverers will have to incorporate a charge or deliver without bagging – by using reusable crates and taking them back after delivery.”

Prof Ramaswami added that supermarkets may also encourage shoppers to buy their in-house reusable bags at a discount when the charge starts.

Prof Ng added: “They may also be encouraged to pack their purchases into fewer bags. There are times when consumers or cashiers pack just a few items into one bag because they categorise the products. We should see less of this.”

Ms Aqeela Samat, market transformation manager at conservation organisation WWF-Singapore, said supermarkets should clearly communicate to shoppers that the bag charge is an environmental initiative, and not intended for profit-making, to increase their buy-in.

“If many stores share the same message: that they are charging for bags to help reduce total waste, it can send a signal to consumers that bags are a non-essential item, and encourage them to bring their own bags,” she added.

Shoppers told ST that they do not mind a charge on disposable carrier bags in supermarkets.

Ms Suliha Bivi, 53, a nurse, said she would bring her own reusable bag when running small errands at the supermarket, but would not mind paying for plastic bags if she has to buy many or bulky items.

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Technology writer Fang Shihan, 35, who always carries an oversized tote bag or brings her own reusables for large grocery runs, said: “Charging for carrier bags is a great idea. But beyond that, it would be great if the plastic bags for fruits and veggies can be replaced with biodegradable materials as well.”

Sales officer Cassandra Ho, 53, suggested that supermarkets can provide big cardboard cartons for the purchases of those who drive or take a taxi.

“The cartons can also be reused. Too many of such cartons that come from online shopping are being thrown away.”

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