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Can you bin your waste without plastic bags? CNA tries everything from tissue boxes to newspapers

Aug 02, 2023


Segregating wet from dry waste could help to cut down on the amount of packaging you need for your rubbish, environmental groups say.

Food waste in plastic packaging that used to hold tissue packets and online purchases.

SINGAPORE: Now that supermarkets are charging for plastic carriers, what are you using to bag your rubbish?

That was the question CNA posed to supermarket customers on Jul 3, the day the mandatory bag charge came into effect.

Shoppers told CNA that they would buy plastic bags or bin liners to contain their rubbish, citing hygiene reasons and the lack of alternatives. Many said wet rubbish would splatter and dirty rubbish chutes if not placed in plastic bags, and attract pests like cockroaches and rats.

Environmental groups, however, have said it is a matter of repurposing the packaging you already have and changing your habits with a mind to reusing what is available, rather than buying a new plastic bag just to throw it away again.

Senior Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment Amy Khor has herself offered a few suggestions from using rice bags to toilet roll bags and packaging from online orders.

CNA asked environmental experts for tips and suggestions on how to bin waste without the use of plastic bags and tried them out for their feasibility.

Non-governmental organisations that CNA spoke to advised users to segregate their rubbish for better management.

Zero Waste SG suggested separating wet and dry waste to cut down on the number of plastic bags required.

While bagging wet or medical waste may be necessary for sanitary reasons, separating this from other rubbish will reduce the amount that actually needs to be bagged, the organisation's executive director Tan Huileng said.

"On a more micro level, you can try to 'coincide' your bagging trash practice with points in your daily routine where you generate the most trash. For example, if most wet waste is generated during meal prep, use one produce bag, or a wrapper or bag from ingredients to contain all the trash before throwing everything away after mealtime," said Ms Tan.

Both Ms Tan and The Eco-Statement founder Sangeeta Nair said recyclables should also be separated, as they can be deposited into the blue recycling bins without plastic bags.

Separating wet and dry rubbish required conscious effort, as this reporter found out. Wet waste went into repurposed packaging and dry waste into various other receptacles. For example, rubbish such as small wrappers from toiletries went into an empty tissue box which did not have to be emptied every day.

By doing so, far less rubbish was accumulated that had to be thrown away in a plastic bag at the end of the day.

Ms Sangeeta also suggested using bread bags, polymailers and large ice cream or yoghurt tubs for wet waste.

For dry waste, she suggested creating bin liners out of newspapers and shared a video on how to fold a newspaper to fit a typical cylindrical waste bin.

CNA tried the methods suggested over a few days, accumulating packaging from other items to use, and also folding newspapers for bin liners.

What this reporter found was that while newspapers may be folded to fit typical cylindrical dustbins, this was not as easily done for rectangular or squarish bins.

Newspapers also cannot be used for bins in toilets, as they may get wet and disintegrate.

It was also hard to figure out a way to tie up or bundle the waste in a newspaper liner before throwing it into a chute. When mixed with other waste in the chute, the newspaper bundle may disintegrate.

If you live in a landed property, you would have to throw the newspaper bundle in a bin placed outside. This could get wet during heavy downpours, and waste collectors might also find it a challenge to handle separate bundles of rubbish.

As for repurposing packaging from other items, such as plastic wrappers for tissue packets, surgical masks or even cat treats, this reporter found them useful for containing wet waste from meal preparation. The difficulty here, again, was finding a way to tie up the packaging – rubber bands could be used, but they ran out after a while.

If the amount of rubbish you generate is far too much for any of these suggestions to be useful, experts said you should ask yourself why.

"Are we wasting a lot, hence we don't think there are enough bags to go around? Is there a better way to reduce food waste?" Zero Waste SG's Ms Tan asked.

Echoing her sentiment, The Eco-Statement's Ms Sangeeta stressed the importance of reflecting on how a household can reduce its waste.

Ms Tan also suggested repurposing strings from packaging to secure waste. Food waste can also be placed into composts in your own home or at nearby compost facilities.

At the end of the day, it is just a matter of trying out and sticking to what works for your household, she said.

"Essentially if we want to change habits or take on a more waste-free lifestyle, it's not just about adjusting to a bag charge but to see holistically how we can make change. That takes a while, and perhaps new ways of doing things – which may be uncomfortable at the start – and definitely trial and error," said Ms Tan.

"It's a journey that looks different for everyone."