Singapore is today possibly the cleanest and greenest cities in the world and has been so for last two decades or so. It’s hard to believe that half a century back, 2/3rd of its population were living in inner city slums and squatter settlements with its streets strewn with litter, dirt and filled with the stench of rotting garbage. It just took 20 years of focused work on creating key intuitions and policies that systematically tackled every aspect of Singapore society.
Singapore took another interesting policy decision earlier this year: “Not to impose a charge or ban on disposable plastic bags”. The logic was simple - substituting plastic bags with other types of disposable bags is unlikely to improve environmental outcomes. Every type of disposable bag, be it a degradable bag or a paper bag, affects the environment, be it through carbon emissions, heavy water use or significant land clearance.
Singapore is taking a more sustainable approach to tackle the excessive consumption of all types of disposables in its attempt to move towards a zero-waste economy. While, this may involve continued use of plastics and other materials to make re-usable bags, the focus is on changing consumer behaviors and brining-in habit of re-using stuff and not discarding them as waste after single use. Even when ultimately disposing, doing so in a suitable manner. This policy is backed with studies that reveal that regular use of a reusable bag over a year could replace the use of 125 single-use plastic bags, or 52 single-use paper bags.
Interesting approach and keeping Singapore’s past success as a gauge, something other developing countries also need to consider.
By Himanshu Sikka, Chief Strategy & Diversification Officer, IPE Global