Penang weighs raising plastic bag fees

State executive councillor Phee Boon Poh said many consumers no longer felt inconvenienced by the 20-sen fee that was meant to discourage the use of such bags. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin
State executive councillor Phee Boon Poh said many consumers no longer felt inconvenienced by the 20-sen fee that was meant to discourage the use of such bags. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin

GEORGE TOWN, July 13 — The Penang government first introduced a “no free plastic bags” campaign nine years ago, but today, many consumers are blasé about paying 20 sen for each disposable bag.

State executive councillor Phee Boon Poh said many consumers no longer felt inconvenienced by the fee that was meant to discourage the use of such bags.

“These are also single-use plastics as most of the plastic bags at shopping complexes and supermarkets are single use where they break after one use due to the thin material of the plastic,” he said in an interview with Malay Mail.

In line with the state government’s intention to ban single-use plastics and plastic straws, Phee said they will need to look at how to reduce the reliance on single-use plastic shopping bags.

One proposal was to increase the fee collected for the plastic bags from 20 sen to 40 sen or even 50 sen each, he said.

“The single-use plastics are very thin and cheaper, so there are proposals that these plastic bags be increased to 40 microns (thicker) and consumers will be charged higher for them,” he said.

He said the largest number of single-use plastics are plastic shopping bags from supermarkets, shopping complexes and hypermarkets.

“We have already implemented the ‘no free plastic bags’ campaign for so many years and yet, people still don’t bring their own bags and [they] pay for the plastic bags,” he said.

The Penang state government first launched the “no free plastic bags” campaign once a week in 2009 before it was extended to all days in 2011.

Consumers were encouraged to bring their own shopping bags, or else they must pay 20 sen for each plastic bag.

The funds collected from the “no free plastic bags” campaign go to the state’s poverty eradication programme, Agenda Ekonomi Saksama (AES).

Penang was the first state to implement the “no free plastic bags” campaign, followed by a ban on polystyrene in 2012.

The state is now mulling a ban on single-use plastics, including plastic straws.

Phee had said the ban, which applies to restaurants, cafes and hotels at first, will only be effective from January 2019, provided the state executive council approves the proposal.

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