Penang to ban single-use plastics from January 2019

Drinks are sold in a plastic bag at an eatery in George Town July 4, 2018. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin
Drinks are sold in a plastic bag at an eatery in George Town July 4, 2018. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin

GEORGE TOWN, July 13 — Penang plans to ban single-use plastics in restaurants, food outlets, cafes and hotels from January 2019, state exco Phee Boon Poh said.

The State Environment, Welfare and Caring Society Committee chairman said the first phase of the ban, which includes the use of plastic straws and plastic caps for paper cups, will be applicable to only these categories of business.

The proposal to ban single-use plastics will not yet apply to roadside hawker stalls and mamak stalls, he said.

“This is still in the proposal stage as we are gathering data to compile a list of single-use plastics that will be banned,” he said in an interview with Malay Mail.

He said the committee must compile a comprehensive list of single-use plastics to determine what items to ban.

“We have to finalise our terms of reference, come up with the complete list, come up with guidelines for implementation, come up with the policy and look at amendments to the law,” he said.

Phee said this can only be done after the committee has completed data collection as well as studies on the proposal and submitted the report to the state exco for approval.

He hoped that everything can be completed within the next six months or just in time for implementation.

“This is subject to the state exco approval too before we can implement it,” he added.

He said the committee has also held a series of meetings on the ban of single-use plastics.

“We will come up with the full proposal for the ban before we engage with the stakeholders, the consumers, the hawkers’ associations, hoteliers’ associations, coffee and restaurants’ association and the petty hawkers,” he said.

To date, he said the state had yet to conduct public engagement with any of the stakeholders.

“We will engage them and we will also be meeting up with plastic manufacturers and recyclers. We want to meet with all stakeholders,” he said.

As for coffee shops and hawker centres, Phee said these are the “grey areas” that are still in consideration.

“Many workers go to hawker centres for meals and they have to rush back to work, so they pack their drinks in a plastic bag with a straw so they can put in their bike and go,” he said.

He said such individuals mostly belong to the lower income group and the state must acknowledge their limitations.

“This is unlike those who dine in cafes and restaurants where they have the luxury of time to sit down and finish their drinks there,” he said.

He said the committee is still considering whether to implement the ban on coffee shops and hawker centres.

Only roadside hawker stalls will be exempted from the ban for now.

“We will reserve the hawker stalls for phase two because we realise these are places that the lower income group go to.

“It is a culture for them to order coffee or tea in plastic packets for takeaway. It will take time, education and awareness to change this culture,” he said.

He said it is hoped that with enough education and awareness, all levels of society will understand and accept that they can take away their drinks using their own containers.

“We must remember, before there were plastic bags, our grandfathers used to bring their own containers to bring back their drinks,” he said.

He said the only way is through intensive education and awareness programmes.

“This is not about issuing summons and taking strict enforcement actions. This is about educating the public about reducing single-use plastics to protect our food security,” he said.

Similar to the state’s previous ban on polystyrene containers, Phee said they will start with government agencies before implementing it.

“We will get exco approval to implement this with all state and government agencies so that no single-use plastics are used in any government events,” he said.

He said the state will have to lead by example by doing this first.

The ban on the use of plastic straws was introduced by Penang Island City Council Mayor Yew Tung Seang last month.

He said the city council took the lead in proposing this in order to combat the dangers of single-use plastics that threatened the environment and in the long run, food security.

Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow had agreed with Yew and instructed the city council to work with the relevant state executive councillor to implement the ban.

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