June 11, 2017

Perak’s About-Face on Plastic Ban is a Shame

Perak’s About-Face on Plastic Ban is a Shame

Plastic shopping bags can sure be handy, but they are hazards to the environment. Photo Credit: Flickr

Malaysians are among the world’s biggest per-capita producers of plastic waste. The country’s residents generate some 4,000 metric tons of plastic waste every single day, according to a waste management specialist. Much of that waste ends up clogging steams and rivers, as well as befouling streets and landscapes around the country.

Encouragingly, though, several states have been planning to ban the use of plastic bags and polystyrene foam food containers. But here comes bad news: Perak, which has pledged to enact a ban on disposable plastic items by this June across the state, has backed down on that pledge.

The government had been phasing in a ban since last June, when cafeterias in state-owned buildings discontinued the use of polystyrene food containers once a week. Several months later, the ban was extended to every day of the week. A year later, on this past June 1, all stores and restaurants in the state were to follow suit by enacting a similar ban, including plastic bags.

But now the state’s government has had a change of heart, citing the need for further studies to justify its decision to delay the ban.

Malaysians produce 4,000 metric tons of plastic waste each day. Photo Credit: Earth Policy Institute

That seems like a diversionary tactic. It’s not as if we didn’t know enough about the awful scourge of plastic pollution.

Not surprisingly, local environmentalists, who have long been campaigning for a ban on plastic bags and food containers, aren’t pleased. “Many are aware of the dangers of plastics but [policymakers] don’t care. Making plastics available only makes it easier for consumers to continue using them,” Abdul Rahman Said Alli, president of the Perak Consumer Association, was quoted as saying in The Malay Mail Online.

Sadly, it does seem that local government officials do not have the environment’s best interests at heart. Then again, lobbyists from the country’s plastic manufacturers have openly been advocating against a ban on their products. And as we all know, money talks.

“Forcing a switch to biodegradable bags or natural fibre containers will directly increase the cost of packaging,” Lim Kok Boom, president of the Malaysian Plastic Manufacturers Association, stressed in an op-ed last year. “The higher cost of hawker food, for example, especially for take-away or tapau, will be passed on to consumers, who are already feeling the pinch with the rise in the cost of living.”

But there are of course good alternatives to cheap but  environmentally harmful plastic products.”In the past, people used to wrap items with old newspapers, and these days biodegradable bags are an option,” Abdul Rahman argues sensibly.

That is why incentives should be put in place to discourage people from using disposable plastic products in favor of greener alternatives. “Supermarkets and shops should start charging consumers for plastic bags,” notes Richard Ng, chairman of Ipoh City Watch. “This would encourage shoppers to bring their own reusable bags.” He adds: “Money collected from buying the plastic bags can be used to support NGOs that promote recycling and waste management.”

Sensible ideas, these. But we don’t have to wait for the government to issue a ban on disposable plastic bags and containers, especially considering how fickle government officials apparently are. We’re free to stop using them. If we all do so, we can enact an unofficial ban of our own on plastic.


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