Ban on throwaway plastic bags not enough

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While supporting the ban on throwaway plastic bags, Kanda Kumar points out that this move alone is not going to reduce our carbon footprint by that much.

Penangites support the no-plastic bags policy

The Malaysian Nature Society Penang Branch fully supports the the ban on the use of throw away plastic bags from January 2011. We had stated then, when the when the State Government first initiated the ban of throwaway plastic bags on Mondays, that this is a step in the right direction.

Awareness programmes and other efforts on the importance of recycling the bags, instead of throwing them, have had little effect, as most members of the public simply discard these bags indiscriminately. One has to remember and bear in mind that this not a ban on all plastic bags but a ban on the one-time use of throwaway plastic bags. There is no problem with reuseable and recycable high density plastic bags.

The public and the industry has been well forewarned that the one-day ban would be progressively extended to a total ban of throwaway plastic bags. The public needed to take steps to accommodate a total ban by adjusting their lifestyles or by substituting other materials and the industry to diversify or switch to the manufacture of biodegradable plastic bags even though it may be slightly more expensive.

Penang is not the only place in the world where plastic bags have been banned or have had their use restricted. Numerous other towns, cities and local authorities throughout the world have similarly banned throwaway plastic bags. In Malaysia, Penang was the first state to be bold enough to implement this globally increasing trend of banning throwaway plastic bags. Some years ago, the MPSP’s implementation of ‘no plastic bags’ at wet markets was shot down by industry bigwigs. As always, there will be opposition from people set in their ways to any initiative to change, even if is done to ensure a better future, but we need to rise above this and move forward.

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On the other hand, banning plastic bags alone is not going to reduce our footprint that much; there are other pressing initiatives and actions that need to be attended to such as better and greater availability of public transport, reduction of energy use and the expansion of the total area covered by biologically diverse greenery. For instance, the mangrove ecosystem acts as a very important and efficient carbon sink. It has been well documented that the mangrove ecosystem is among the top carbon sink ecosystems but unfortunately Penang, over the years has lost most of its mangrove ecosystem due to de-gazetting, land conversion, illegal clearing and encroachment.

All these negates our efforts to reduce Penang’s carbon footprint. Urgent and concerted action has to be undertaken by the relevant authorities to gazette all the remaining mangrove areas in Penang and carry out enrichment planting in these protected areas and create coastal corridors to link up the isolated and fragmented mangrove areas. The greater the area of mangrove ecosystem conserved, the greater the future benefits. It will not only increase the carbon sink but will create more carbon credit and at the same time improve the environment for more sustainable and productive coastal fisheries.

Kanda Kumar belongs to the Malaysian Nature Society’s Penang Branch

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