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N. Sivasothi,
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Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, Department of Biological Sciences, National University of Singapore. Since 1998 with origins from OneList.

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Sun 22 Apr 2007

IKEA says NO! more free plastic bags

Category : envt

Ikea is saying NO to customers - isn't that suicide for a retailer?

Introducing a new culture

Ikea Singapore has taken a bold step - they are the first retailer in Singapore to stop issuing free plastic bags. From today, shopppers will have to pay the cost price of five cents for standard-size plastic bags and ten cents for the larger ones at both Ikea outlets in Alexandra Road and Tampines.

This is part of their global campaign against plastic bags which in Britain saw the 10-pence (29 cents) fee for plastic bags reduce usage by 95 per cent!

Lars Svensson, the Country Marketing Manager of IKEA Singapore (whom I first met in pirate garb at the Swedish ship Götheborg) the told me they even incorporated the word "NO" in their campaign t-shirts for the launch today because they look forward to explaining to customers the rationale, action and also the economics of the process. They are prepared for the long-term challenge of what essentially will be the education and lobbying of customers for their approval and support.

What's the alternative?

You can bring your own reusable bag as some were already doing that morning, or get one of the iconic, durable blue IKEA shopping bags at the store - the price has been more than halved from $2.90 to $1.20. And even better, it comes with a lifetime guaranty. Lars said, 'if your bag has a hole in five years time, come and get it replaced!'

Follow the money

Proceeds from the sale of the bags will be donated to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Singapore Conservation Fund to fund initiatives by the Indonesia government and non-government organisations to prevent and monitor illegal fires and forest-clearing and to promote sustainable forest management and protect.

Ikea Singapore and WWF signed that agreement this morning in the presence of well wishers that included local groups supporting the move such as ECO Singapore, Blue Water Volunteers, Nature Society (Singapore), Waterways Watch Society and the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore.

Why do this now?

We consume some 2.5 billion a year pastic bags a year, according to the National Environment Agency. That's some 11 plastic bags per person each week. Many harbour a stockpile at home due to generous cashiers and complacent shoppers. Loads of plastic bags get thrown out during spring cleaning and since its all free, there is no cost associated with this action.

Volunteer who hit the shores during the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore certainly agree that plastics bags are too freely available, and are not always properly disposed of, either. In just over an hour each September, some two thousand volunteers find an average of more then 11,000 discarded plastic bags - all of those were issued free of course and are thus regarded as valueless. [see data at webpage].

We certainly need a significant extra push before we'll reduce consumption. It's just the way it is.

Ikea's move is no surprise, having encouraged the use of reusable bags for many years. In 2005, they made the bold move (then) of commemorating Earth Day by not issuing plastic bags [See "IKEA will not distribute plastic bags on Earth Day weekend." Habitatnews, 11 Apr 2005.] The debate in the past half-decade has helped raised awareness of issue but its time for something more (see "Say no to plastic bags").

So Ikea Singapore has decided to lead the field once again and has taken a stand. Lars says, they hope to change consumer practice in Singapore with this initiative. And watching them closely are other retailers.

After the signing ceremony, the NGO representatives joined the media in observing the cashiers, leggy beauties and Beatty Secondary ECO-student volunteers greet the first customers of the day with that clear message on their t-shirts. They also distributed free resuable bags. Many of th customers were smiling but some did looking suspicious!

The discussion between the activists on the sidelines acknowledged the uphill battle that loomed ahead, expressed enthusiastic support for the IKEA programme and their convictions, and almost surprisingly, reflected an undaunted optimism that all this has and will make a difference!

Click for more photos

Posted at 6:46AM UTC by N. Sivasothi | permalink | email | Raffles Museum news