Penang seeks to extend ban against free plastic bags and polystyrene nationwide

Phee said he is in discussions with the minister of water, land and natural resources to extend the 'no free plastic bags' programme nationwide within the next two years. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin
Phee said he is in discussions with the minister of water, land and natural resources to extend the 'no free plastic bags' programme nationwide within the next two years. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin

GEORGE TOWN, July 23 — The Penang government hopes to work with Putrajaya to extend its “no free plastic bags” ruling and polystyrene ban nationwide, state executive council member Phee Boon Poh said today.

The Sungai Puyu lawmaker who spearheaded both initiatives in Penang said the state government will share its procedures in implementing these measures with the federal government.

“We are willing to share what we learnt and how we implemented these measures effectively all these years so that there will no longer be free plastic bags and polystyrene use nationwide,” he said in a press conference here.

He said this will make it easier for Penang to reduce the number of people who are willing to fork out 20 sen for each plastic bag now.

The environment and caring society committee chairman said he is in discussions with the minister of water, land and natural resources to extend the “no free plastic bags” programme nationwide within the next two years.

“In order for us to really succeed in reducing the number of people willing to pay for plastic bags, this has to be implemented nationwide,” he said.

He said this is because visitors from other states who come to Penang will not be aware of Penang’s no free plastic bags campaign which is in effect every day as opposed to only the weekends in the other states.

“So, people will still pay the 20 sen for plastic bags,” he said.

Earlier, he revealed survey results which showed that 79 per cent of respondents as being extremely concerned about environmental issues in Penang.

The same survey also revealed that 67 per cent of the respondents recognised the importance of reducing plastic bag usage in Penang.

“However, their level of concern does not trigger a behavioral change,” Phee said.

He said the survey found only 65 per cent of the respondents brought their own shopping bags campaign hike 25 per cent chose to pay for plastic bags.

“A total of the 413 respondents admitted to being forgetful whereas 181 respondents said plastic bags are the best carrier for a variety of goods especially groceries and fresh produce,” he said.

The survey, conducted online and offline, involved a total 2,582 consumers from shopping malls, wet markets and roadshows both on the island and mainland.

Phee is also proposing that plastic bags be thickened to 40 microns from 15 microns.

“Supermarkets and hyper markets can change to 40 microns plastic bags, at a higher charge than the current 20 sen, so that these plastic bags can be used repeatedly,” he said.

Currently, most plastic bags given out at 20 sen per piece are only 15 microns and usually tears after one use.

Despite the “no free plastic bags every day” ruling being implemented since 2009, Phee said very few people knew where the 20 sen collected for each plastic bag went.

“Only 27 per cent of the respondents are fully aware that the 20 sen charge for each plastic bag is channeled to the state’s Agenda Ekonomi Saksama,” he said.

The Agenda Ekonomi Saksama (AES) is the state’s poverty eradication programme that tops up the income of those whose incomes are below the poverty level.

Phee said despite the state announcing numerous times since 2009 that the 20 sen collected went towards AES, some Penang lawmakers themselves were unaware about it.

“I keep getting the same question about the 20 sen during the state assembly every year and this year again, I get the same question for the upcoming state assembly,” he said.

On Penang’s plans to implement a ban on single-use plastics including straws, Phee said they are still gathering feedback and collecting information.

He said they will be implementing it on January 1 next year and once it proves successful, the state will also propose for it to be implemented nationwide.

Currently, the most successful green programme the state had implemented was the polystyrene ban.

Phee said they have managed to achieve 90 per cent compliance except for some events or festivals where the stall operators were from other states and were unaware of the ban.

“The ban would be complete and fully successful if the federal government implements this ban too so all food operators from all states will comply with this,” he said.

Penang implemented the ban on polystyrene in 2012.

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