47. No Free Plastic Bags

Photo: Shopper using a reusable bag at the supermarket. Source: FairPrice Group

When there was a charge of 12 cents per plastic bag, consumers threw a fit. That was in 1974, when NTUC Welcome, the predecessor of FairPrice, made people pay for plastic bags.

The reason for the “No Free Plastic Bags” initiative then was not so much to protect the environment, but to cut costs. It was soon scrapped due to the brickbats.

Fast forward almost five decades later, and FairPrice is once again the first among supermarkets to put a price on plastic bags. This time, it was driven by sustainability concerns to cut down plastic use.

Singaporeans discarded 950,000 tonnes of plastic waste in 2018, of which only 4 per cent was recycled. Something had to be done. In 2019, the organisation implemented a plastic bag charge of 20 cents and 10 cents per transaction at selected FairPrice and Cheers outlets respectively.

Rather than profit from the charge, all proceeds are channelled towards supporting charities, as well as environmental initiatives. Consumers were more supportive than before. Some 70 per cent were willing to bring their own bags. In 2022 alone, 57 million bags were saved under the initiative.

FairPrice’s move to charge for plastic bags was prescient. It came ahead of an announcement that all major supermarkets would be required to charge a minimum of five cents for each disposable carrier bag from the middle of 2023.

Since its humble beginnings in a corner of Toa Payoh, NTUC FairPrice has become the quintessential Singaporean supermarket. The leap from a single store to a grocery giant is a tale of retail reinvention – a half-century journey that saw the cooperative confront crises and challenges, revamps and even robbers.

As it expanded and evolved, FairPrice never wavered from its core mission: to moderate the cost of living for consumers. It Takes a Great Deal - A Catalogue of FairPrice Group Stories encapsulates the birth of the consumer cooperative in 1973 and its transformation into a $4 billion food enterprise that is now called FairPrice Group.

Through 50 remarkable stories, we celebrate the people, products and places that mark significant milestones for the food retailer over the last five decades, charting its growth and successes in the past, present and into the future.