Living, Breathing Plastic by 2050

Say Hello to the World's First Plastic Bag. Visual Credit: Carina Lim

Say Hello to the World's First Plastic Bag. Visual Credit: Carina Lim

Most people are used to leaving a store with full bags, but there is a place in the world where people come to the grocery store with bags fuller than when they leave.

Where individuals leave the shop with more money than they came with. And where people feel guilty when randomly throwing a plastic bottle - in the bin.

Are you thinking - hey, does this place really exist?

Yes it does and it’s my home. Germany’s progressive government launched a regulation called “Pfand”, which closest translation would be “deposit”.

It’s so popular that people in Germany now say at the end of any given barbecue in a park or a dinner at home: “Nooo, don’t throw it, we can get Pfand on it.”

To give you a bit of a context - when you buy a single-use plastic water bottle in Germany, it costs you just over 30 cents. But on top of that, you pay a deposit of 39 cents which doubles the price of anything you buy.

It feels unnatural to throw things away once you realize that you would be literally throwing away dozens of euros a month.

This is not because Germans are generally more self-disciplined - policies such as Pfand have changed the way society behaves, taking more responsibility for the environment in exchange for an incentive.

In fact, in 2015 - Germany achieved a recycling rate of 93.5% for single-use plastic bottles - and we are now aiming for 100% recycling rate of course.

Is this only being done in Germany?

This trend is not unique to Germany. For example in the UK, the usage of single-use-plastic bags has dropped by 80% between 2015 and 2018 after the introduction of a plastic bag fee. In Hong Kong, after the plastic ban levy in 2014, the number of plastic bags sent to landfills has decreased by 25% in 2015.

These are actions taken by the government to support us in developing new habits. But we, as residents of Singapore, should not wait for someone to regulate plastic consumption for us - we can and have to take action and responsibility ourselves.

What can be done for Singapore?

When I first got to Singapore, I was surprised at how plastic is being consumed in Singapore. When friends visit me they always make comments like “Why is there a weird plastic and foam cover for each fruit?” or “Why do they give out so much plastic at the shops here?”

These comments are typically made because the abundant usage does not fit Singapore’s image of being a clean, tidy, modern and innovative city with strict regulations, especially with the SmartNation 2020 initiative.

Why should I care about this?

First off, I have personally been blown away from what Singapore has done over the past 50 years and where it is going. It’s a stellar example of ambition and intelligence to create a very liveable city-state.

But while I head for lunch at the Hawker Centre, I can’t help but notice that we need to unwrap the wooden chopsticks from the plastic packaging, enjoy the yummy bee hoon fish soup with a plastic spoon and drink from a plastic cup with our plastic straws wrapped in a plastic carrier.

While enjoying that soup, 15 marine seabirds, 3 turtles, fishes and marine mammals will die, as a consequence of the 150 Million tonnes of plastic waste that has already accumulated in the ocean.

While all of that is a tragedy for our environment, it also affects us. Scientists estimate that by 2050, we’ll have more plastic in the ocean than fish.

What Goes Around Comes Around.   Visual Credit: Carina Lim

What Goes Around Comes Around. Visual Credit: Carina Lim

And even now, as we consume our fish in our meals, we actually digest micro plastic particles ourselves - throughout the year that accumulates to over 6,400 plastic fragments. Effects on health unknown.

If you love eating fish as much as I do, you might want to modify your food preferences.

Looking at all these factors, we need to take some responsibility to use less plastic in the first place.

Here are 3 ways on how you can start:

  1. Reducing single-use plastics - such as plastic bags that are thrown within minutes (12 minutes on average). This helps us establish a less-waste routine.

  2. Build habits around refusing plastic and bringing our own cloth bags and utensils.

  3. Buy a bamboo or metal straw rather than using a plastic straw and say no to the bag carrier around your plastic cup.

We decided to do some research on the plastic habits in Singapore, conducting intercept interviews with both customers and shop owners in hawker centres as well as students at the NUS campus.

Our challenge: How might we engage both customers and hawkers to use less plastic? And - how can we support building habits around that?

Read more in the next article of our Living Breathing Plastic series.


Naima Volz, Design Researcher

What Goes Around Comes Around
Say Hello to the World's First Plastic Bag

Carina Lim

Icons in Visuals:
What Goes Around Comes Around

Starfish, Coffee, Seahorse, Fish, Shopping Bag, Plastic Cup and Fishing Net icons by Freepik from

Coffee icon by Smashicons from

Water Bottle icon by Nikita Golubev from

Ocean and Woman icon by Icon Pound from