Saturday, May 12, 2007

Let's move beyond plastic bags

Ever since the launch of Bring Your Own Bag Day on 18 April 2007, there has been much public and media outcry on this tiny island city-state. On the day of launch, I heard my colleague complain about the lack of widespread implementation of the campaign while my sister and brotherinlaw called me up on a conference call to seek my "expert opinion" on the myopia and contradiction of the campaign. (Read my article on Bring Your Own Bag Day for more information)

To add to the latest foray, Andy Ho, a senior editor at The Straits Times wrote an editorial piece recently on 12 May entitled "Plastic bags are not the enemy".

"On average, Singaporeans use 625 bags per person per year. Research in several countries shows that the main problem with plastic bags is not their environmental impact per se but littering."
Of course, I have to agree that littering is the greater evil behind the plastic bags problem as the international coastal cleanup exhibition mantra is the "curse of the marine litter". The below poster shows how plastic bags and all plastic things really are killing our marine life!

However, it's wrong to say that plastic bags are not the enemy but it is merely not our ONLY enemy. Yes sadly, we have more. Unfortunately, Andy Ho goes on to say:
"But littering is generally not a problem here. In countries where it is, discouraging their use might be justifiable."
I think that Andy has yet to see the above ICCS poster but we shall let that past. However, it really does not justify him questioning the purpose of the whole campaign at all. What more, he brings up all the evils of the ALTERNATIVES of plastic bags. Regarding the cotton bags, I think he simply has not heard of organic cotton yet.

Organic Cotton at the Eco Product Fair 2006

Admittedly, the whole campaign has become a very myopic one. We are only focusing on plastic bags as if it's the be all and end all to all our problems. Do people not realize that this is only the beginning?

To give the people behind the campaign some credit, I must confess that a big part of this "myopia" is created from years of campaigning Singaporeans but we are so stubborn that it's become such an impenetrable wall to break. Over time, people have become focused on the most minute detail to campaign and change the consumer lifestyle in Singapore.

Unfortunately when something "revolutionary" in singapore's standard swing around, they start to pick on the myopia of the campaign and lament the lack of holistic approach to tackling the problem. But what is the REAL problem?

Most importantly, let us NOT divert attention away from or deny the existence of the problem or even presenting it as if its an unsurmountable task?

Are plastic bags our Inconvenient Truth?

There needs to be change, not just a little change but a full overhaul. but unfortunately we need to start somewhere, a baby step. So while taking the baby step, try to look up and far ahead of you instead of complaining about having to take any step at all and saying how you should be leaping forward when you cannot even take on this one step. This step is somewhat symbolic and possibly doesn't make a real chip in the whole journey you have ahead of you. But that's why it's called the first step. You need to start somewhere and this is it!

Perhaps as I have said on my post on metblogs, it is important for the government and state agencies to map out clearly the long term plan for all to see so they know what is ahead of them and not use the myopia of the first step as an excuse to criticize the government. Or perhaps it is not the government's myopia but our own convenient amnesia of past efforts.

Making a big hoo-haa about plastic bag is tiring, passe and it's time we move BEYOND plastic bags. There's a whole climate change crisis ahead of us and we are building dykes to combat this global problem?! Come on!

Let's not act like certain world leaders who try to deny the existence of a problem by means of diversion like saying climate change plastic bag is not the problem or perhaps there is no problem at all. This is NOT how we solve problems!

After all, as Andy Ho said, plastic bags are not the problem as much as littering is! But we have been having littering campaigns for decades and nothing come of it. Well, we are cleaner than many other countries but why compare? We should be setting the standard instead of placating ourselves by only measuring up to others! Who will innovate if all thinks the same?

This is a call to all Singaporeans.

Take on the challenge. If you cannot even overcome a little change like taking on less plastic bags, how much better do you think you will fare when it comes to more unsurmountable challenges?


eugene said...

Just read a book called Made To Stick. There are good ideas in it that we can use to package green messages better, be it anti-littering or using less plastic bags. One important point I learned from the book is the 'Curse of Knowledge'. Quoting from the book, "Once we know something, we find it hard to imagine what it was like not to know it. Our knowledge has "cursed" us. And it becomes difficult for us to share our knowledge with others, because we can't readily re-create our listeners' state of mind."

Some people don't care about using less plastic bags, it's not in their interest, they don't see how it would help anyone, it's too troublesome, there are more important things to care about, it's just a bag, the government will take care of the problem...
How do we make them care? And take action? Maybe we should or the government should re-examine how we can communicate the message better.

Monkey said...

its so true eugene, i totally agree with u

here we are, on this side of the fence, always planning these campaign as if it is 理所当然 (read: a certainty) that everybody will know the importance of reducing waste by reducing plastic bags or what not.

There is no introduction but a wham bam and suddenly there is a bring your own bag day. i mean we have heard it till its oversaturated but most people havent!

this is why environmental education is so important and not just in schools but to everybody. so much things people have not heard about. so yes, just because we know doesnt mean other people don't know.

so there is failure in the execution of this campaign but that doesnt make it unnecessary. i just wish people will stop harping on how bad it is, do it, and move on. at the same time we still need to be reminding people why they have to do it i suppose so when do we actually move on?

how is it when im overseas people don't question these things? are they more blindly obedient than we are?

eugene said...

Well, maybe other people overseas have a headstart, they are exposed to environmental education earlier. We are moving along although at a slow pace. But I have hope in Singaporeans because of 2 reasons. One, we can adapt to changes. Give us more time and we will get used, just look at increases in GST, ERP, salaries... Two, we like to complain in the beginning but in the end we get things done. Don't despair and keep up the good work!

JC said...

Gd post.

Imho, NEA has failed in this campaign. They only implement it without even educating the general public on the various issue of plastic bag.

I rem watching the news one night and there was this interview with someone from the relevant authority and the only thing he can bring up is plastic bag are causing $$ to dispose and incinerate. Com'on.... Is that the whole issue? Is that the best they can do?

Jenny said...

yes, BYOB is just a step towards the start of caring for the environment, and plastic bags should not be seen as a be all end all . Saving the environment is not just about plastic bags. The problem is many see it as that and the inconvenience of no plastic bags, without realizing that the liberal usage of plastic bags has long been taken for granted and how environmentally unfriendly plastic bags are. Also, other issues like proper disposal of used batteries, separation of trash etc have not been addressed, and which I hope will get their turns soon...