ALL 12 councils in Selangor have embarked on a mission to gradually phase out polystyrene food packaging by 2017.
This initiative will kick off at the Ramadan bazaars next month.
While the move could mean paying more for food and drinks because some alternative packaging materials might cost more than polystyrene, the state government remains optimistic that this is the only way forward towards a more sustainable future.
Selangor Environment Committee chairman Elizabeth Wong said the government encouraged all councils to provide different food packaging ideas for bazaars this Ramadan including biodegradable materials
Such materials may cost at least 30sen extra.
The directive has forced traders to increase the price of their goods to cover costs.
Shah Alam Farmers Market Association president Abdul Latif Md Ali said although the initiative was laudable, it would affect their livelihood.
“It looks like we are being punished to help the state government get the campaign off the ground.
“The government needs to help bring the price of packaging down,” he said.
Abdul Latif said most traders would have to charge customers additional 50sen per biodegradable pack purchased from the Shah Alam City Council.
Their food sales, he said, was expected to go down because of the additional charges.
“We are not opposed to the idea. In fact, we welcome it.
“But the prices of the packaging have to be monitored and regulated.
“Maybe the state government can help fund the cost,” he added.
Wong was aware that some traders would transfer the cost to the customers and agreed that the price could be reduced if there was more demand for biodegradable packages in the long run.
This can be achieved if the state’s 2017 No Polystyrene Campaign takes off.
When asked if the campaign would lead to a total ban on disposable polystyrene packaging, Wong declined to comment.
She said the state government’s focus was on a three-pronged plan to ease people into the idea, following a study showing most welcomed the idea but wanted alternative packaging.
The three-part plan, she said, was to educate consumers and traders; reduce polystyrene usage and providing alternatives instead of banning it immediately.
“It has to be planned and executed properly and in stages, so everyone can accept the idea,” she added.
Wong said the government was trying to eliminate single-use plastic packaging before focusing on polystyrene.
A state policy implemented five years ago, banned the use of polystyrene at government events, forcing traders to provide other options including multi-use packaging.
Wong said the state absorbed the cost of packaging in the past and even made their own food containers, which were handed out during some of their events, and were planning to do so again for the upcoming bazaars.
The idea has caught on with the councils which had tried to introduce no plastic bag and no polystyrene campaigns during Ramadan and on Saturdays.
“We even took the council representatives to Penang to understand how they implemented it there.
“From there, the State Economic Planning Committee (Upen) and the councils devised their individual plans,” she added.
The Ramadan no polystyrene initiative was well received by the public, including USJ 12 resident Datuk Azman Bujang.
Azman, who is also in the food industry, said it would not be easy to change the mindset of people especially the traders.
“First, the state needs to educate the traders and then, there is the question of cost.
“Traders should be able to do effective costing and incorporate additional charges for the biodegradable materials,” he added.
Traders, Azman stressed, should not be charging for the packaging individually but should include the cost with their food to make better profit.
Another alternative was for customers to bring their own food containers, he said.
He described Subang Jaya Municipal Council’s programme in the past, to reward customers who brought their own food containers, as a great initiative.
The Malaysian Plastic Manufacturers Association (MPMA), however, said there was no basis to ban polystyrene.
MPMA executive director ST Giam said polystyrene was perfectly safe to use and did not leach toxin.
“On the matter of degradation, the authorities and the public do not understand the actual effects of degradation and its impact on global warming.
“Food waste, when it decays, emits methane which is a major contributor to global warming, and food waste is the largest component in the total waste picture,” she said.
Polystyrene and plastics, she added, should not be included in the non-degradable section since these were meant to be recycled and not thrown in the landfill.
“At the end of the day, a practical sustainable option has to be a product that is cheap, easy to handle and can be reused again and again, such as plastic food containers including polystyrene,” Giam reiterated.