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Why using incentives to entice eco-friendly habits may not work out

There's more than the carrot and stick approach to encourage green ways, says Ariel Muller, Asia-Pacific director of Forum for the Future.

Last year, Singapore generated 822,200 tonnes of plastic waste, according to a National Environment Agency report. In a bid to reduce that figure, four supermarket chains – Dairy Farm Group, Fairprice, Prime Supermarket and Sheng Siong – are in talks to impose a five to 10 cents levy on plastic bags.

Ariel Muller isn’t convinced the monetary disincentive will suffice. “People might just end up paying more for plastic bags,” says the Asia-Pacific director of Forum for the Future – a non-profit organisation promoting sustainable development.

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Beyond imposing surcharges on products, the 50-year-old Muller believes that an emphasis on educating the consumer on the impact of their choices – including how it ultimately affects them on a personal level – is necessary in driving deeper and more sustainable behavioural change.

Take the United States. It is now mandatory for restaurant chains to label menu items with nutritional information. Confronted with these statistics, a Starbucks customer might think twice about adding whipped cream to his or her latte.

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In the same vein, information on plastic waste and its impact on the environment should be prominently communicated to consumers – be it at the point of sale or via product packaging. Perhaps then, shoppers might begin to swop plastic carriers for reusable bags.

PHOTOGRAPHY DARREN CHANG ART DIRECTION DENISE REI LOW CHAIR CHUBBY CHIC BY DIESEL CREATIVE TEAM, FOR MOROSO. AVAILABLE AT XTRA