Charge for biodegradable bags — Darshan Singh

JANUARY 12 — No plastic policy is not something which is new. It has for a long time been implemented successfully in many countries. In Malaysia, since its first introduction by the Penang state government in 2009, the no plastic campaign has gained tremendous traction. Today various state governments have declared no plastic day everyday albeit applying different implementation mechanisms. Selangor and Penang allows consumers to purchase plastic if they choose to use them while the Federal Territories and Malacca have completely banned the use of conventional plastics carrier bags but introduced biodegradable bags without charge. Throughout Malaysia we have in place no plastic day every Saturday by Ministry of Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism but consumers are allowed to purchase them. Perak and Johor are also mulling similar no plastic policy but currently we are unsure of implementation mechanism.

This well-intended no plastic campaign has sadly been politicised, where implementing parties are challenging and defending their own strategies, but it is commendable that everyone is on the same page which is protecting the environment by reducing plastics from the landfills.

What should then be the correct implementation strategy? Charge for plastics or migrate to biodegradable without charge?

The Malaysia Consumers Movement (MCM) believes that both strategies have merits but if combined and supported by robust consumer education programs targeting to change consumer behaviour, better results could be achieved. To protect our landfills, government must make it mandatory for businesses to issue biodegradable plastic bags and charge for it while embark on a structured campaign encouraging consumers to use reusable bags. A time frame must be set to completely ban plastic carrier bag usage be it biodegradable or conventional.

The issue at hand is not mere usage but excessive usage of plastic carrier bags is the problem. While we will never be able to completely wipe-out plastics from our system, neither charging nor changing of product will help us achieve the desired objective if consumers do not change their own behaviours. Migration to biodegradable bags is a short term solution but changing consumer behaviour by encouraging them to bring their own reusable bags when shopping is the long term answer, an element which is sadly missing from both strategies.

Let us stop believing that biodegradable material will dissolve automatically. What actually happens depends a lot on where the biodegradable plastic ends up. If it gets buried in a landfill it probably won't degrade at all because there is no light or oxygen. The problem will continue to exist. Charging 20 cents per bag on the other hand may not completely solve the problem of plastic bags as irresponsible consumers will continue to use them but this would at least mitigates its excessive usage. If a consumer previously use five plastics bags, due to cost factor he/she may reduce it to just two pieces and start bringing along reusable bags instead. This will help reduce plastics from the landfills.

Whatever the strategy is, the MCM applauds the fact that governments are now taking concrete actions to reduce plastics carrier bags from our landfills. Results could be better achieved if instead politicising it. Everyone works harder together for the greater benefit to environment and society.

The MCM urges all consumers to discharge our individual role and responsibility by embracing environmental friendly practices in our daily lives. If we change our attitude we will be able to witness tangible results. Protecting the environment is not solely the responsibility of the government and positive outcomes can never be achieved if we do not work collaboratively. It is understood that changing our behaviors takes a bit of an effort but we must make an attempt to start. Overtime we will get used to a newly acquired habit and be proud of our own contribution in protecting our environment.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or organisation and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online

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