Saving our planet; one bag at a time

May 27, 2008

Burning plastic creates poisonous dioxins. Singapore should tax plastic bags and reduce usage feel citizens.

Filed under: Environment — Kaajal @ 4:11 pm

Singapore needs a plastic bag tax

Singapore, unquestionably one of Asia’s best governed states, is facing a dilemma over the disposal of plastic bags. Burning them for energy was considered a convenient solution for the land-scarce territory, but the dioxins generated are now an issue of debate.

One concerned citizen, Ms. Bhavani Prakash, wrote to the Straits Times that it is time Singapore addressed the problem at its very root and taxed plastic bags.

Read the Reuter’s story first and then Ms.Prakash’s letter that follows.

FEATURE-Trash and burn: Singapore’s waste problem, By Gillian Murdoch

SINGAPORE, May 22 (Reuters) - Creeping out of their condo after dark carrying illicit bags of garbage was not part of the life Sarah Moser and her husband envisioned for themselves before moving to tropical Singapore.

But with recycling in its infancy on the island, such nocturnal escapades have become normal for the two academics.

Each week they dodge watchful security guards, barking dogs and suspicious neighbours to carry rubbish they cannot recycle at home to recycling bins far down the road.

“We end up storing tons of stuff,” Sarah Moser said. “Paper and cardboard, plastics like milk, juice, takeaway containers.”

“Then we have to do a huge big binge trip, and we’re so embarrassed because the guards are watching us.”

This small act of rebellion illustrates the problem faced, on a much larger scale, by tiny Singapore: there’s nowhere to put the trash.

“It is very costly to get rid of our waste,” said Ong Chong Peng, general manger of the island’s only remaining landfill, which cost S$610 million ($447 million) to create on Pulau Semakau eight kilometres south of the mainland.

The landfill “island,” a 350-hectare feat of engineering reclaimed from the sea, opened the day after the last of five mainland landfills closed in 1999.

Every day it takes shipments of over 2,000 tonnes of ash — the charred remnants of 93 percent of Singapore’s rubbish, burnt at its four incinerators.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) predicts a new multimillion dollar incinerator will be needed every five to seven years, and a new landfill like Pulau Semakau every 25 to 30 years.

With nowhere to site another landfill, recycling, though not yet rolled out to the masses in condominiums or state Housing Development Board (HDB) skyscrapers, is no longer just nice to have, but a necessity, said Ong.

“Singaporeans have to practice the three Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle) to extend the lifespan of Semakau as long as possible,” he said, “and also reduce the need to build new incineration plants.”


Untroubled by the festering mounds of pungent tropical garbage that frequently pile up in its less-developed neighbours, clean, green and super-efficient Singapore’s unique rubbish headache stems from its small size and high population density.

Incinerators have met with public resistance in neighbouring Malaysia and Indonesia, and have been banned in the Philippines because of perceived health risks.

But the plants are sacred cows in Singapore, which opened its first in 1979, little commented on or questioned.

“Singaporeans understand and accept that because land is scarce, incineration is one of the most cost effective ways of waste disposal, as it can reduce the volume of waste by up to 90 percent,” the NEA said in a statement.

Other proponents stress that the four waste-to-energy plants scattered in the south, centre and north, recover enough heat from the combustion process to generate power equal to lighting up the city three times over.

“Some people think that incineration is just merely a destruction method, but it’s not true,” said Poh Soon Hoong, General Manager of the S$900 million ($659 million) Tuas South Incineration Plant, Singapore’s largest, which burns up to 3,000 tonnes of trash a day.

“We actually generate power. The plants produce two to three percent of the total power generated in Singapore.”

For critics, however, Singapore’s set-up is a dirty mess.

“Waste incineration sounds like a pretty good idea if you don’t really look into it too deeply,” said Neil Tangri, of the international Global Anti-Incinerator Alliance (GAIA).

“It’s power, it gets rid of this problem we have… but it creates dioxins where none existed before. Dioxin is known to increase rates of cancer growth… An incinerator is a major contributor to a whole range of major health problems,” he said.

For Greenpeace Southeast Asia Director Von Hernandez, the plants fly in the face of the green goal of resource conservation.

“Incineration does not really make the waste disappear, it transforms the problem into a formidable pollution problem,” said Hernandez, who led the world’s first successful campaign to ban the technology in his native Philippines.

“If you look at this model, from harvesting resources to selling them, disposing of them, it’s a linear model. In fact we should be looking at circular models to bring back some of this stuff to nature, and conserve materials.”

“In a small country like Singapore, inevitably, their landfill space will run out and they will have to find other ways of dealing with the problem,” he said.


With Semakau landfill expected to be full by 2040, even those who have worked for decades in Singapore’s incineration industry agree the old burn-and-bury approach is unsustainable.

“We cannot keep building incinerator plants,” said Poh. “It’s not really the solution.”

Like the NEA, he says Singaporeans must change their mindset. “We need to get people aware of the environmental impact of their actions.”

Convincing people to buy less in a country whose “national pastime” is shopping is a hard win, he said.

Instead, a wave of softly-softly initiatives are being deployed to enthuse, inspire, or slyly enforce compliance.

Recreational Sentosa Island pushes edu-tainment, with a troupe of trained macaque monkeys who perform daily recycling displays.

At supermarkets, shoppers are now asked to bring their own bags to reduce the likelihood of the thousands of plastic bags handed out each day ending up in incinerators.

Another stealthy project, which began in March, targets the cornerstone institution of Singapore life — the hawker centre.

Darting between tables to snatch up dirty plates at Chinatown’s Smith Street food court, the army of plate clearers are at another new frontline in the battle — food waste recycling.

Leftovers scraped into black sacks on the end of the cleaners’ trolleys are trucked to a start-up food waste recycling plant that hopes to save 800 tonnes of organic scraps a day from being sent to the incinerators.

Local company IUT Global feeds the scraps into a bacteria-filled digester which turns them into biogas energy and compost.

The plant’s capacity will make it Southeast Asia’s biggest bio-methanisation and renewable energy plant when fully operational, said Assistant Manager Leon Khew.

In the meantime, normalising the idea of recycling through legislation would help, he said.

“Right now in Singapore recycling is not legislated. In Europe, everyone separates organics, everyone recycles, it’s legislated.” (Reporting by Gillian Murdoch; Editing by Eddie Evans).

Meanwhile, a citizen of Singapore, Ms. Bhavani Prakash wrote to the Straits Times in Singapore that a plastic bag tax was required. Here’s what she wrote:

I REFER to Thursday’s article, ‘Britons will soon have to pay for plastic bags’. The problem with plastic bags is that they are perceived to be free, whereas in reality they impose real costs to the environment, in terms of consumption of scarce petroleum resources, as well as their disposal. And because of this perception, there is no real incentive for individuals to curb their consumption.

According to the Singapore Environment Council, Singapore uses about 2.5 billion plastic shopping bags every year, which amounts to about 2,500 bags per family per year. Singapore sends most of its waste to incinerators, which means that a lot of that plastic goes up in the air releasing harmful dioxins. The rest may end up in drains, public places, rivers and canals, nature trails, beaches, mangroves and even pose a threat to marine life.

As a consumer, I would like to see more alternatives to plastic bags. I like to carry a cloth bag and a trolley to the supermarket. I have to admit though that I do take a few plastic bags home from the supermarket from time to time, which are used to line my kitchen bins, so that the wet waste can go down the chute. I hope supermarkets will make available, at a cost to the consumer, vegetable source-based (as opposed to petroleum-based) biodegradable carrier bags/bin liners so even the need for those few plastic carrier bags is eliminated.

I also feel that Singapore can take more radical steps and go beyond the voluntary initiatives by supermarkets to reduce the use of plastic bags, such as the introduction of a tax on plastics, like Britain. We can look to the successes of other countries. Ireland introduced a tax on plastic bags in 2002 equivalent to about 47 Singapore cents. Within weeks, there was a drop in plastic bag use of over 90 per cent. Countries such as Taiwan, South Africa and Bangladesh have banned the use of plastic bags. Some African nations are seeking to ban plastic bags as they clog sewer systems and float in the ocean, endangering marine life. Positive way forward for South Africa and springbok. Australia wants to ban free plastic bags by the end of the year, though it is still working out how to do it.

Such a radical step may meet initial resistance, but I am sure enlightened Singaporeans will see the long-term benefits to the environment, and come up with ingenious ways to make their shopping trips, plastic bag-free.

Bhavani Prakash (Ms)

May 21, 2008

Students seek a ban on plastic bags

Filed under: Environment — Kaajal @ 4:10 pm

Kids ask for a ban on plastic bags

I’ve always been convinced that kids are more honest and sincere than us cynical old timers who’ve accepted the world for what it is and are willing to let things be the way they are. Kids are bright eyed and innocent and haven’t yet got around to assuming that change is impossible. So, they try. And sometimes that’s all you need to do. Try.

Read this wonderful story by Francis Baker from The Fergus-Elora News.

Wednesday, May 21st, 2008
Students petition for ban on plastic bags By Francis Baker
May 20th, 2008

Protecting the environment is on the minds of local high school students.

Sarah Hennekens, a Grade 10 student in the environment group at Centre Wellington District High School, presented two petitions to township council on environmental issues last week.

The first, signed by 298 students, asks council to support expanding the Greenbelt into Erin, Puslinch and Guelph-Eramosa. The second, signed by 254 students, asks the township to ban plastic bags.

With only a short time to circulate the petitions, Hennekens got 20 per cent of the student body to sign — and she said with more time, she’s sure she would have got about 90 per cent participation.

“These voices are the future of the community,” she said. “I’d like to ask you to consider taking action.”

Only one municipality in Canada — a township in Manitoba with 700 people — has banned plastic bags, she said. Centre Wellington could lead the field by not waiting for the federal or provincial government to move.

“Plastic bags are a huge problem in this world, and Canada hasn’t done much about it,” she said. “Let’s not wait — let’s take action ourselves.”

There are 500 billion plastic bags in use around the world — about one million are used every minute, Hennekens said. Besides cluttering the planet for the next thousand years, they’re also filling up landfills and causing thousands of animal deaths each year, she said.

The Greenbelt petition calls on council to support expanding the Greenbelt as the only effective way to protect environmentally sensitive land in the area.

Ward 3 councillor Robert Foster thanked Hennekens for her presentation, saying it’s very refreshing to see young people interested in advocating for issues like this.

Mayor Joanne Ross-Zuj said she would take the two petitions to Wellington County council, which is dealing with both issues. Because municipalities have to work together to look at expanding the Greenbelt, the county would be an ideal place for that petition, she said.

Ross-Zuj said the county’s solid waste services committee was meeting the next day — and she would present the plastic bag petition there. “These are two wonderful initiatives,” she said. “It’s great to see at the high school that you’re concerned about this.”

May 15, 2008

I wish I’d thought of that!

Filed under: Branding, Environment — Kaajal @ 4:10 pm

A book for children with a reusable bag enclosed

Today I saw a press release announcing that a childrens’ book called “My Bag and Me” had won the iParenting Media Award. What a great idea. I wish I had thought of it first. But I didn’t and they did and I wish them great success with it.

Here’s the press release:

iParenting Media Awards announced “My Bag and Me” as a winner in the book category. “My Bag and Me” is a thoughtful book educating children on the topic of going green and ways to reduce waste on the earth. Grocery shopping bags are not only wasteful but unnecessary, especially when a special reusable bag is available. “My Bag and Me” comes with its very own reusable shopping bag for children to use when shopping with mom and dad. The book not only teaches, it provides the tools for children to do their own part to save the earth right off the bat.

The iParenting Media Awards Program was created to provide a credible and objective source. iParenting Media Awards is the only consumer awards program in this market segment and prides itself on providing the best parenting content available today.

“We are thrilled to be included as a winner in the iParenting Media Awards,” says Karen Farmer, Author. “‘My Bag and Me’ is the first book of its kind and really allows a child to take ownership of their actions and take action immediately with the reusable shopping bag.”

“My Bag and Me” is currently available at any major bookstore for $10.95. It is the perfect book to begin teaching baby and child about the importance of being kind to the earth. “My Bag and Me” is appropriate for ages 1+ and includes a reusable shopping bag that can be put to good use right away. For more information on “My Bag and Me” or any of Penton Kids Press’s other award-winning products, please visit

What a great idea. I wish I had thought of it first. But I didn’t and they did and I wish them great success with it.

May 8, 2008

The answer to “paper or plastic” is Neither!

Filed under: Environment, Happy customers — Kaajal @ 2:34 pm

The answer to �paper or plastic� is Neither!
Seattle’s mayor  Greg Nickels and City Council President Richard Conlin have proposed a 20 cent “green fee” on all disposable shopping bags. It targets both paper and plastic bags at grocery, drug and convenience stores, says this story in LA Times. “The answer to the question ‘paper or plastic’ is neither: Both harm the environment,” the mayor said in pushing for the citywide change. That’s exactly the message Margie Shepherd from
Crozet, VA asked us to print on the cotton bags she ordered from us a few months ago. She’s selling them from her school and has received many compliments from the parents of her students.

This is one of the mails she got from a parent “Ms. Shepherd, Just used the cloth bags I bought…they’re great! What would have taken 5 plastic bags, was contained in just 2 cloth bags. And I even got to say, “neither, thanks” when the checker inevitably asked, “paper or plastic?” Thank you again for selling the bags!! Happy holiday. Best, Debbie”

Margie also wrote us the nicest mail where amongst lots of compliments she also said “I was nervous about ordering something with only a picture from halfway around the world, but you made me a believer. You can use anything I said in part or whole, and put me down as a reference to anyone looking to do the same!”

We consider ourselves privileged to be in such a nice business at a time when the world is beginning to appreciate the value of reusable fabric bags, and lucky to get such lovely customers.

Here’s the original LA Times story by Stuart Glascock.

SEATTLE — - Conservation-mindful Seattlites know their garbage. They pack compost bins, fill yard waste carts, separate glass bottles and jars into tubs, and pack paper, cans and plastic jugs into oversize recycling containers. A city ordinance prohibits putting recyclables in the garbage.

Residents can be fined for tossing too much glass or paper in the trash. Low-cost city-issued rain barrels help homeowners reroute well-known Northwest drizzle.

So no shock greeted Seattle’s latest eco-friendly proposal from Mayor Greg Nickels and City Council President Richard Conlin. It would impose a 20-cent “green fee” on all disposable shopping bags. It targets both paper and plastic bags at grocery, drug and convenience stores.

“The answer to the question ‘paper or plastic’ is neither: Both harm the environment,” the mayor said in pushing for the citywide change.

The measure also would ban foam containers in the food service industry, such as restaurant plates, trays and cups and grocery stores’ meat trays and egg cartons.

The response to the proposed green fee and ban on foam, announced April 2, has mostly been positive, Nickels said. .

“It sparked a good debate in grocery stores, and on blogs,” the mayor said. “People are talking and bringing up good issues. We’ve got a good proposal.”

Seattle goes through 360 million throwaway paper and plastic bags every year, Nickels said.

“We are faced with changing our culture from one of conspicuous consumption to conspicuous conservation,” Nickels said. “Seattle is a good place to do that. Seattle has had a strong conservation ethic for a long time.”

‘I expect it will pass’

The City Council expects to vote on the proposal in June. If adopted, the measure will take effect in January 2009. Retailers would keep 5 cents per bag to cover the administrative costs. Store owners grossing less than $1 million annually will keep the entire fee.

“The council is very supportive, and I expect it will pass,” Conlin said. “The public has been generally supportive. The plastic industry doesn’t like it.”

In fact, the American Chemistry Council intends to lobby against the proposal. It sees plastic recycling as a better alternative, said Keith Christman, senior director of packaging for the chemistry council’s Progressive Bag Affiliates.

“We appreciate the city’s interest in reducing waste,” Christman said. “The tax is not the right approach. Recycling plastic bags is the right approach.”

Studies show that consumers recycle and reuse their plastic bags, he said. Sales of plastic bags go up when plastic bags are prohibited, he said.

“Once people understand that plastic bags are recyclable and reusable, people will do that,” Christman said.

But the trend in a number of countries is away from plastic bags.

Ireland started taxing them in 2003. China’s ban on free plastic bags begins June 1. Shoppers must pay for the bags in Switzerland, Germany and Holland.

Ikea, the Swedish home furnishings store that has charged 5 cents for plastic bags since March 2007, will pull them from all U.S. stores in October.

Last year, San Francisco became the first U.S. city to ban nonbiodegradable plastic bags in large grocery stores and drugstores.

“Right before our eyes we see habits changing for the better,” said Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, sponsor of San Francisco’s ban.

Mirkarimi views switching from plastic bags to reusable ones as a modest local act that has international implications.

“Climate change is so severe people feel paralyzed and yet they are desirous to do something,” he said. “Instead of waiting for the federal government, municipal governments can do some things.”

A range of far-reaching issues drove Mirkarimi to push the San Francisco measure. He said over-reliance on oil, insufficient pursuit of renewable energy, the war in Iraq and the U.S. refusal to sign the Kyoto Treaty “created a stew of inspiration to try and do something locally.”

California cities, said Mirkarimi, essentially have two options: recycle plastic bags or ban them outright. California lawmakers passed a state law specifically prohibiting municipalities from levying taxes similar to Seattle’s planned green fee.

“Locally, it’s about litter, debris, the fact these plastic bags take a millennium to degrade,” Mirkarimi said. “Despite the propaganda the industry says, there is no recycling of plastic bags. Only a tiny percentage of bags are recycled. The challenge is not to recycle more but to decrease reliance on bags.”

He doesn’t have to convince his municipal brethren in Seattle.

Fashion statement

Practically overnight, Mayor Nickels’ proposed green fee jump-started a cottage industry — supplying fashionable reusable bags.

In one case, the owners of PB&J Textiles in Seattle heard the mayor’s proposal and immediately pressed their custom embroidery and garment printing shop into action.

They cranked out a series of large, sturdy canvas bags emblazoned with anti-plastic bag messages:

“Look mom I just saved 20 cents,” “Just say no to plastics” and “No tax required.”

On display in their shop window, the newly minted, reusable bags spark interest and sales, said co-owner David Robertson.

“We read about it and decided to try something,” said Robertson, who acknowledges that he usually forgets to take a canvas bag along when he goes shopping.

“We are so used to the plastic bags,” he said. “It will take time.”

Even the mayor admits he struggles to remember to bring along reusable bags. But he has started keeping them in the family car. Still, Nickels said, “about half the time we get to the register and have forgotten the bag.”

“It will,” he said, “take a bit of time and effort to make the change.”

May 1, 2008

Guerilla Marketing to new age consumers

Filed under: Branding, Environment — Kaajal @ 6:13 pm

Guerrilla Marketing to new age consumers

“What sells?” I was asked the other day by a young lady, a budding entrepreneur, looking as though she expected some deep and secret insights from me.

Fortunately, I had a simple answer to give her: “Brands that people trust. Brands they associate with the good qualities they seek and a name they associate with the absence of risk”.

The concept of “goodness” is universal. It applies to products in exactly the same manner as it does to humans.

Think of a good human you approve of. I imagine it would be a person who does things you approve of.

Bottom line? Do things that earn approval for your brand.

Now what could that be? Many opportunities to do good and earn approval make themselves available every day.

Here’s a story that demonstrates such an opportunity:

Australia’s Northern Daily published an article some time ago, about how local councils have contributed huge sums of money for calico bags to be distributed free to residents.

The 13 participating councils are Armidale Dumaresq, Glen Innes, Gunnedah, Guyra, Gwydir, Inverell, Liverpool Plains, Moree, Narrabri, Tamworth, Tenterfield, Uralla and Walcha.

Vanessa Tiernan, project co-ordinator for the Northern Inland Regional Waste Group, said that each of the group’s 13 constituent councils had contributed a collective $65,000 to buy 86,000 “Don’t Waste” bags.

They would all carry the same “Don’t Waste” message, but there would be one difference from council area to council area. In Tamworth, the bags would carry the message “Don’t Waste Tamworth”, whereas in the other areas, the message would be “Don’t Waste Glen Innes” or “Don’t Waste Inverell”.

Sensible. Where plastic bags are usually used just once or a few times before being discarded, reusable cloth bags are so durable they can be used for months and even years.

Each one of these bags is going to be reused at least 300 times. Assuming even a modest 50 eyeballs each time, 86,000 X 300 X 50 = 1,290,000,000 – that’s more than a billion  exposures to a brand that would get approval every time.

Sponsorship of a programme like this in your city can cost you less than you think. With citizens of hundreds of cities in the United States, Canada and the UK asking for a ban on plastic bags  in their cities, new opportunities like this arise every day.

If you’d like to earn respect and approval for your brand, talk to me.

You will be pleasantly surprised by how attractive and economical reusable fabric bags can be

Even though they cost so little, they are a low cost high potency weapon for guerilla marketers.

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