‘Plastic ban may not solve the problem‘

Some hypermarkets are using carboard boxes to pack shoppers’ items since the ban on free plastic bags. — ART CHEN/The Star

THE banning of free plastic bags will not necessarily lead to less waste at landfills, said environment and waste management expert Dr Theng Lee Chong.

He questioned the clarity of the policy to ban plastics both in the Federal Territories and Selangor.

He said the focus might be more business- and politically-driven instead of out of concern for the environment.

Theng said the policy must be clear and the implementation must be understood by the authorities, the public and business owners.

He said there was no research to prove that the banning of free plastics leads to a reduction of waste ending up at landfills.

He even predicts there would be an increase in waste at the landfills because of the alternative waste disposal practices.

“There is a possibility of an increase in waste at the landfills after the ban because people would use other alternatives rather than bring their own bags.

“Most alternatives are relatively much heavier than plastic bags in terms of weight, such as boxes,” said Theng who also questioned the issue of waste management at the landfill.

“Some countries are using incinerators for waste management or waste treatment.

"Hence, plastic is not so much of a problem because it generates energy when incinerated.

“However, for countries that use landfill as the final disposal, we must be concerned about what ends up in it,” he added.

He said the authorities must not just focus on banning plastic.

“Plastic is visible waste.

“How about the quality of landfill management that is not visible to the eyes?” said Theng who explained that 90% of the landfills in the country were not sanitary landfills.

He added that the ban on free plastic bags must be paired with active and aggressive awareness activities to change people’s mindset and attitude in the long run. This must be the ultimate objective, otherwise the policy might not achieve the environment objective, said Theng.

“Based on my observation, many restaurants in Kuala Lumpur have changed their food packing boxes from polystyrene to polypropylene (PP) boxes.

“These PP boxes are just another type of plastic. But there is no ban on PP boxes.

“The waste will increase if people continue to use these alternatives.

“Worse still, many don’t mind paying 20sen for these boxes or plastics instead of bringing their bags or containers,” said Theng.

The middle- and lower-income families might find it costly to buy garbage bags as a necessary household item.

He said prior to this, they would recycle the plastics bags that they get free from the supermarkets or malls to discard their waste.

“It is true that buying dustbin bags are a burden for some low-income groups.

“This is why Negri Sembilan announced that the state would not ban plastics because it will increase people’s financial burden.

“Environmental quality versus financial capability is a big debate, even the so-called degradable bags or boxes are all more expensive.

“It would burden people in the long run,” he said.

Theng hopes the decision-makers would base their policies on science and the environment instead of business or politics.

“The authorities must have the correct focus and if they really want to enforce the ban on plastics policy, please play the necessary role and intervention.

“Do not just make announcements and let it be a free-flow policy with no monitoring or enforcement.

“Do not allow ‘free riders’, especially those who now do not have to bear the cost of providing free plastics anymore,” he said.

Theng said both disposable diapers and plastic bags each make up 12% of the landfill waste.

There was just so much focus on banning of free plastics compared to the non-degradable disposable diapers.

Each year, some 1.5 million tons of disposable diapers end up in our landfill.

StarMetro previously reported that some 3.5 billion pieces of nondegradable disposable diapers end up in our landfills each year. There have been no policies to address this issue.

“Of course, we do not want plastic bags to be used and disposed of indiscriminately, that will create problems.

“However, we have to focus on the right issue with the right approaches and policy implementation,” he said.

Centre for Environment, Technology & Development Malaysia executive director Anthony Tan said he welcomed the ban on plastics as an environmentalist.

He said the ban would make people think of alternatives such as bringing their own bags or food containers.

However, some of the alternative ideas might not be beneficial to the environment.

“I saw a person pull about 10 plastic bags at the raw food section.

“This person might end up using these plastic bags to discard waste instead of purchasing rubbish bags,” said Tan, who is still optimistic that people would manage their waste better in time to come.

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