Monday, April 30, 2007

Live without plastic bags? Here's how it can be done

This is my letter published in the Singapore Straits Times Forum page on 28th April 2007.

'Rubbish chutes' are hollow columns in high-rise flats in Singapore. Each flat has a 'flap-door' in the kitchen wall through which rubbish is disposed. The rubbish falls through these columns/chutes into a bin at ground level and these bins are emptied (usually by foreign workers) every morning.

With the advent of plastic bags in the 1970s, Singaporeans have been asked to put their rubbish in plastic bags to reduce the amount of cleaning required in these chutes.

Live without plastic bags? Here's how it can be done

FROM some letters on the use of plastic bags, it appears that some Singaporeans think the world would end if they didn't get their 'free' plastic bags.

And we take our rubbish chutes for granted.

Here, in the United Kingdom, where we pay more than £2,000 (S$6,060) in annual council tax (for refuse disposal, etc), I have to sort rubbish into three different types (plastic/paper/metal/glass which can be recycled, organic rubbish which can be composted, and the rest which goes into landfill).

We also have to wheel the correct bins onto the boundary of the property the evening before 'bin day' once a week. Different bins are collected in different weeks. Wheel the wrong bin out on the wrong day or put the wrong rubbish in the wrong bin and it won't be emptied until the offending 'contamination' is removed, or suffer a fine.

What we need is a sea-change in our attitude towards plastic.

It is not difficult to fold up a plastic/cloth bag to leave in one's handbag. Or why not try alternatives like a string bag? Where we once used six to eight plastic bags for our weekly food shopping, we now put everything into four reusable, washable and biodegradable string bags.

When I plan to buy food home, I go with my tiffin carrier or other reusable containers - just like our parents used to do.

We must stop thinking in terms of the price of a plastic bag. Think instead of how much you value the earth that your children and grandchildren must live in. There is a cost to our profligate reliance on plastic usage. When our children have to pay for it in another way, is the plastic bag really that 'cheap'?

Rubbish chutes are not an inalienable right. I am sure we can come up with an alternative. Meanwhile, if we are concerned about dirty chutes, why not buy some biodegradable plastic bags?

If we look carefully there are all sorts of containers we can reuse for the chute: used, thick plastic-padded envelopes, empty cereal boxes, plasticised juice cartons (tear open the top and fill with rubbish, roll top back down and secure with rubber bands), plastic bags that come with loaves of bread, deliveries, junk mail, tissue-paper rolls, etc. If all else fails, use several layers of newspaper and secure with rubber bands.

We can live without plastic bags.

Dr Lee Siew Peng
Middlesex, UK

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