Refuse or reduce single-use plastic for your own good

We are drowning ourselves in plastic, as seen here in March at this filthy drain just beside the Federal Highway in Section 7, Shah Alam, Selangor. Photo: the Star/Hazim Fauzi

Can we live without (single-use) plastic? That is basically what Mareena Yahya challenged herself to do three years ago.

It all started when Mareena and her family, who love the outdoors, saw a lot of plastic and other rubbish around when they went snorkelling in the islands of Malaysia.

The mother of two felt that as a yoga instructor, she was doing a lot for her mind and body but nothing for the earth. It was then that Mareena began her quest to cut her plastic waste.

“Our earth is in a critical stage. If we don’t do something now, our grandchildren may not be able to enjoy nature and its wildlife,” said Mareena, co-founder of Sampah Menyampah, a community group set up in March to promote a cleaner, healthier environment.

Mareena gave a talk on “How to Live without Plastics” in June at the Five Arts Centre in Taman Tun Dr Ismail, Kuala Lumpur. In particular, Sampah Menyampah has started a #TakNakStraw campaign to reduce single-use plastic straws, many of which end up in the oceans and harm marine life like sea turtles.

Plastic straws are often discarded after one use and end up polluting the environment, including the ocean and harming marine life like sea turtles. Photo: The Star

“Reducing straws is a good start to cleaning up our oceans. There is an urgent need for consumers to refuse plastic to (discourage) manufacturers from producing them.

“We want to make people more aware. We cannot change everyone but if we can change half the community, that will be good,” said Mareena.

If we continue at the current rate of throwing away single-use plastics, it is estimated that by 2050, our oceans will have more plastic than fish and 99% of seabirds will have ingested plastic!

Mareena, co-founder of Sampah Menyampah, has cultivated the habit of having minimal plastic waste for three years. Photo: The Star/Muhamad Shahril Rosli

“Please try to eliminate single-use and semi-disposable plastic items from your life. Things like straws, water bottles and plastic bags,” urged Mareena, who has been living almost plastic-free since she first started the habit three years ago.

Her husband and two children are also actively practising the habit of refusing plastic, even though her husband was sceptical at first.

Today, Mareena carries her own forks and spoons, stainless steel straws, water bottles and recyclable bags whenever she goes out.

“Make it a habit to bring things like a tiffin carrier for at least 21 days. Even if you reduce half your plastic waste, it’s a big step,” advised Mareena, who also stuffs extra plastic bags into her bean bag instead of throwing them away.

So how do you start reducing your contribution of plastic waste to the environment? Mareena gave these useful tips:

1 Sort out all the plastic bags in your house. Wash and reuse them to store food in the fridge or to buy vegetables or meat from the wet market.

2 Send existing plastic bottles for recycling or reuse them for craft work.

When packing food, use a tiffin carrier. Photo: The Star

3 Start using (stainless steel or glass) water canteens for water or juices. For hot beverages, use cups or thermos mugs. Carry your own reusable forks, spoons or chopsticks, instead of using plastic ones.

4 Refuse polystyrene and plastic bags when buying things; bring your own tiffin carrier or other food containers.

5 Do you know that every time you buy a bottle of detergent, floor cleaner or dishwasher from the store, you’re wasting money buying the plastic bottle that comes with it? Why not bring your own bottles and fill them up with whatever household cleaning products you need? You can do this at Bring Your Own Bottle (BYOB), a concept store that promotes the 3R idea of Reuse, Recycle and Reduce. They have several branches, including in Sarawak (

6 Look for refillable personal care and skincare products with eco-friendly packaging. Use soap bars rather than soap from bottles.

7 Buy organic, non-packaged vegetables from wet or farmers markets. Or get them delivered to your house.

8 Use bio-degradable personal care products like bamboo toothbrushes (available online) or cloth sanitary pads (available at certain shops and online).

9 If you must buy things wrapped in plastic (like pasta), look for recyclable packaging.

10 For food waste like vegetables, fruit peels or meat bones, compost it to become fertiliser for your garden. If you don’t have a garden, you can buy or DIY a composting bin. When the bin is full and the contents have decomposed, you can dispose them in a community garden or just throw them away as garbage.

A sample of microplastics collected from the sea by Plastic Free Seas, a Hong Kong eco charity. Photo: EPA

Prickly plastic facts

– Up to 80% of the oceans’ litter consists of plastic. More than eight million tonnes of plastic leak into the ocean each year, which is equivalent to dumping a garbage truck of plastic every minute – United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

– Animals can get tangled up in this trash or ingest it either because they mistake it as prey or because the plastic has been broken down into tiny particles by seawater. These particles do not biodegrade and will remain in the water for centuries.

– Scientists at Ghent University in Belgium have calculated that shellfish lovers there are eating up to 11,000 plastic fragments in their seafood each year! Humans absorb fewer than 1% of that, but they will still accumulate in the body over time, according to a report in The Guardian (

– Even microscopic zooplankton have been captured on film eating microplastic – tiny particles broken down from plastic bags, bottles, and other garbage. Fish eat these tiny organisms – and then humans eat fish.

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