Since 1 January, the federal governments of Federal Territories and Selangor have implemented a total ban on plastic bags in an effort to reduce waste and plastic build-up in landfills. It’s not a perfect solution to environmental problems, but it is better than nothing.
Recently, environment and waste management expert Dr Theng Lee Chong expressed his views on the ban of free plastic bags as questionable, stating that the ban is more business- and politically-driven than with concerns of the environment in mind.
“There is no research to prove that the banning of free plastic leads to reduction of waste ending up at landfills.”
Well, let’s take a look across the sea to Australia where the banning of plastic bags started in November of 2011. According to the Australian Capital Territory Government (ACT), the ban has reduced plastic bag waste in landfills by one-third. Further, after only four years, more than 70 per cent of consumers support the ban.
Going north to England where in October 2015, a five per cent charge on plastic bags was implemented. Since then, the use of plastic bags has dropped 85 per cent with only 500 million of the 7 billion distributed to supermarkets were purchased for use.
Theng said that consumers would turn to alternatives such as items heavier than plastic bags in regards to weightage and possibly use boxes.
He adds that while plastic is visible waste, it is not the main concern. “What about the quality of landfill management that is not visible to the eyes?”
(Read also: No more plastic for Malacca, Malaysia)
Just a week prior to the implementation, Negeri Sembilan pulled out of the total ban on plastic, saying that it will ultimately burden lower to middle income families.
Theng advocated for decision makers to base their policies on science rather than politics. “Do not just make announcements and let it be a free-flow policy with no monitoring or enforcement.”
In these states, a 20 sen fee will be charged to any shopper requiring a bag, up from its original 10 sen. Environmental activist Gurmit Singh said the government should charge RM1 instead because 20 sen is still cheap. “Raising the price to RM1 might stop them from purchase the plastic bag,” he said in an interview with Free Malaysia Today.
Fees collected from the purchase of plastic bags will go directly to charities, consumerism programmes and environmental conservation efforts. Along with extending the ‘No Plastic Bag Day’ campaign, the state government has also enforced a total ban on polystyrene containers, also effective 1 January 2017.
According to Malaysian Plastics Manufacturers Association (MPMA), an average Malaysian household use 300 plastic bags a year. In a research released by the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Environment Protection Agency and Conserving Now, the average person recycles one page for every 200 used.
The problem with plastic bags is that it takes more than 1,000 years to decompose, while leaking toxic chemicals into the soil and water source. While some governments have opted for incinerating plastic bags to prevent build up in landfills, the process is arduous, expensive and labour-intensive.
Besides that, varying plastic types have various chemical composition, making them difficult to recycle.
From a consumer stand point, I have been carrying multiple reusable bags with me every time I step out of the house — some for groceries, some for health and beauty items. I try to recycle all the plastic bags I have at home, including saran wraps that I use to store food.
Unfortunately, Malaysia does not yet have a sophisticated waste management system where organic waste can be dumped into a bin and collected the same day, eliminating entirely the use of plastic bags as containers to dispose of trash.
That being said, I still regularly sort my recyclables from wet garbage. It’s difficult to live plastic free but not impossible, and is certainly the only real long-term solution to our global plastic consumption issue.
However, I, for one, fully support this ban on plastic bags. It’s a small adjustment for a greater good.