WE ARE spoilt. We are careless. We take things for granted.
I am talking about the convenience of shopping in this day and age. Everything is packaged neatly; we just need to pick it up and proceed to pay for it.
If you stand in the middle of a supermarket, you will be surrounded by plastic. Think about all the plastic wrappings and containers, and the plastic bags in which we carry our groceries.
But if you think about it, all these excess packaging is not necessary. After we take the products home, the first thing we do is to throw away the packaging. It is disposable and non-essential.
Not only does packaging add more cost to the product, it also uses extra materials that we don’t actually need, especially plastic.
Most of these packaging is done for sheer convenience to fit into our fast-paced, hectic lifestyle.
But do you remember the good old kedai runcit? Produce was sold loose and by weight, and you’ll just put them straight into your shopping bag rather than in a plastic bag.
I was told that during my mother’s generation, most drinks were sold in glass bottles rather than the plastic bottles we use now. And if you needed to buy cooking oil, you’d bring your own container to fill it up.
The same practice would apply for buying cleaning detergent and other household items.
Similarly, most of the produce at wet markets were sold by weight and would go straight into our shopping bag or basket.
There was hardly any unnecessary packaging – you just picked what you needed, weighed it, and paid for it. Plus, there was a sort of satisfaction from choosing the produce you wanted!
Yes, you have the option of choosing your own fruit and vegetables at a supermarket. But most of the time, you have no choice but to place the produce in a plastic bag to have it weighed, bound with plastic tape, and have a sticker placed on the bag with the price.
This is a worldwide problem. We take these neatly packaged goods for granted, it is the standard. But it is fuelling the unsustainable convenience culture.
In 2016, Malaysia produced approximately 38,000 tonnes of waste per day. That is equivalent to over 3,000 garbage trucks filled with rubbish being sent to the landfill every day.
Plastic makes up for 13.2% of our household waste in Malaysia, and the majority of our plastic waste ends up in our landfill.
Some plastics take hundreds of years to break down, while some are not degradable at all. This means that the first plastics ever made are still somewhere on Earth.
According to an Ellen MacArthur Foundation 2016 report, there will be more plastic waste than fish by 2050. That is a really scary thought!
The report states that plastics production has increased twentyfold since 1964. It states that plastic production reached 311 million tonnes in 2014, and it is expected to double again in the next 20 years and almost quadruple by 2050.
But despite the growing demand for plastics, only 5% of plastics are recycled effectively, while 40% end up in landfills and a third in our ecosystems.
In Malaysia, our recycling rate was at 17.5% in 2016. This means that a large number of plastics used in our country end up staying in the landfill or find their way into our ecosystem.
I am not saying that we should all be cutting plastic out of our life (although some people do practise the zero waste lifestyle).
I understand that we all need the convenience of some packaged goods.
But there is potential to cut down our plastic usage by opting to buy our groceries at the market or a bulk food store.
As consumers, we have the power to refuse to buy products with excessive packaging, and choose to buy more environmentally friendly products instead.
And if you can’t help but buy packaged products, please take some time to separate your waste to recycle.
A little bit more effort can go a long way!
Online reporter Victoria Brown’s Behind The Cage tackles the pressing issues of animal rights and environmental awareness. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.