Polystyrene ban in Selangor: Manufacturers say there is another way

A sign at the entrance of Taman Selera in PJ Old Town declares ‘PJ No Polystyrene’. — Picture by Choo Choy May
A sign at the entrance of Taman Selera in PJ Old Town declares ‘PJ No Polystyrene’. — Picture by Choo Choy May

KUALA LUMPUR, July 5 — Plastics manufacturers in Selangor are unhappy with the state government over the plan to ban polystyrene food packaging without prior consultation with the Malaysian Plastics Manufacturers Association (MPMA).

MPMA's Sri Umeswaran, who is in charge of the sub-committee for polystyrene, said the state had not informed them before making the decision and demanded that it shows a proper study to support the ban, which is likely to start in January 2017.

"In 2014, we were invited by the then executive local council member in charge of local councils (Datuk Teng Chang Khim) for a meeting as the state wanted to ban polystyrene because it was contributing to the spike in dengue cases,” he said.

Indiscriminately thrown polystyrene packaging had become breeding places for Aedes mosquitoes which spread dengue fever.

"Since it was related to waste management, we and several manufacturers offered to conduct an awareness campaign and also to buy back used polystyrene for RM2 per kg," Sri told Malay Mail Online.

He said that was the last meeting held between MPMA, manufacturers and the state before they heard about the ban recently in the news.

He added the proposal to buy back used polystyrene never took off after the Selangor government faced internal political turmoil the same year that saw a change in portfolios among executive council members.

Many traders still prefer to use polystyrene packaging as they are cheaper than the alternatives and more easily available. — Picture by Choo Choy May
Many traders still prefer to use polystyrene packaging as they are cheaper than the alternatives and more easily available. — Picture by Choo Choy May

Ean Yong Hian Wah replaced Teng in overseeing local councils while Elizabeth Wong maintained her portfolio as executive council member in charge of the environment.

Sri alleged that despite their writing to Wong to reverse the ban decision, there has been no reply.

"So what study has the state done to support this move? Who are the stakeholders that they called before making this ‘sound decision’ when MPMA and several manufacturers were kept in the dark?" Sri asked.

He said polystyrene food packaging is in fact recyclable and that the state should have instead championed a campaign to recycle such products rather than impose a ban.

He added that compared to biodegradable packaging that takes between one to five years to completely perish in landfills, polystyrene can be picked up from landfills and recycled within several days.

"Of course polystyrene packages take about 400 to 500 years to perish but if we pick them up, these can be recycled within days.

"We also have studies to show that consuming food from polystyrene packages have very minimal effect on health... if the effect is extensive, don't you think the Health Ministry and WHO would have called for a ban a long time back?" Sri said, referring to the World Health Organisation.

Plastics manufacturers say that contrary to popular belief, polystyrene packaging can be recycled. — Picture by Choo Choy May
Plastics manufacturers say that contrary to popular belief, polystyrene packaging can be recycled. — Picture by Choo Choy May

Meanwhile, Tycoplas executive director Hedy Yong said the ban was uncalled for and demanded the state show a concrete study on the matter.

Citing countries like Japan and certain parts of the United States, the polystyrene manufacturer in Selangor said these countries still use polystyrene food packaging, claiming that Selangor's decision was made without looking at the bigger picture.

"Banning polystyrene will see a domino effect on manufacturers, retailers and consumers as prices for alternative food packages are not as cheap.

"Even if we are talking about the environment, polystyrene is recyclable but biodegradable products are not and they take up space in landfills for years," she said.

Citing a case where a polystyrene manufacturer had won a legal suit against New York City for a similar ban, Yong said this should be studied by the Selangor government.

Last September, the State Supreme Court in Manhattan struck down a ban on foam food containers by the city.

Polystyrene packaging is used everywhere. Imposing a ban on them is not the only solution to their long ‘life’ in landfills. — Picture by Choo Choy May
Polystyrene packaging is used everywhere. Imposing a ban on them is not the only solution to their long ‘life’ in landfills. — Picture by Choo Choy May

The case was challenged by Dart Container Corporation, a manufacturer in Michigan.

Meanwhile, there have been contradictory statements by state government officials, local councils and news reports on the ban in Selangor.

While Ean Yong has said that only three local councils, namely Shah Alam, Petaling Jaya and Subang Jaya, have been selected for the pilot project to implement the ban, The Star reported Elizabeth Wong as saying that all local councils are involved.

A high-ranking officer from the Shah Alam City Council (MBSA) said MBSA started educating people about the ban as part of its own initiative but later retracted this statement when it was pointed out that other local councils have also embarked on a similar mission.

According to Bukit Gasing assemblyman Rajiv Rishyakaran, Petaling Jaya will impose the ban on September 1 and traders who do not comply can be compounded up to RM1,000.

Ean Yong, however, neither agreed nor denied the imposition of such a fine, only saying that the actual date of implementation is still under negotiation.

Efforts to reach Wong have been futile but according to news reports, she said Ramadan bazaars in the state will be the first to use alternative food packaging instead of the usual polystyrene packages.

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