By Raveen Jeyakumar
The government should conduct a nationwide campaign to stop the production and use of plastic bags for small and medium-sized businesses and consumers.
In many states, supermarkets and large stores charge a small fee for plastic bags. However, this has not been a strong enough deterrent to curb the use of such bags. Many other businesses continue to provide free plastic bags.
Not surprisingly, many people continue to use plastic bags instead of reusable bags. They find reusable bags cumbersome as they have to remember to bring them along and then clean the bags later.
What this means is that the throwaway culture remains dominant in our society.
The problem is plastic bags do not decay easily. Most plastic bags are not biodegradable; so they take about a thousand years to degrade. Even then, the bags do not break down completely: instead, they “photo-degrade, becoming microplastics that absorb toxins and continue to pollute the environment”.
With the widespread use of plastic bags and things made of plastic, they make up a large proportion of our rubbish. Most of the plastic waste dumped at rubbish landfills remains at these sites for decades.
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The large quantity of plastic waste also mars the cleanliness of cities, towns and housing areas throughout Malaysia. The irresponsible dumping of plastic waste into drains and rivers harms marine life and water bodies.
The government, through its relevant ministries, should implement the following measures:
- Work towards halting the production and supply of nonbiodegradable plastic bags and replace them with environmentally friendly bags
- Enforce pollution fines on individuals and companies that pollute the environment. The fines must be heavy enough to deter offenders
- Keep increasing the price of plastic bags supplied by eateries to consumers for packing food and drinks. This will encourage consumers to bring their own food and drink containers whenever they wish to take away food
- Set a timeline for all eateries in Malaysia to use food packaging that is environmentally friendly. Subsidise the cost of such packaging to reduce the burden on these eateries
- Conduct a nationwide campaign urging society to use recyclable bags and to stop using plastic bags for daily shopping
The government’s current actions to preserve the environment and to reduce illegal rubbish disposal are commendable. But ultimately, the most effective way to minimise the environmental harm from plastic materials is to stop the production and use of plastic bags altogether.
Raveen Jeyakumar, a 29-year-old in Ipoh with an interest in environmental issues, is an Aliran volunteer
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