Plastic bottles and their caps are just as bad as bags, say experts


A full trash trap in Sungai Klang taken in May last year. — Photo courtesy of the Global Environment Centre

SELANGOR and the Federal Territories’ ban on free plastic bags and polystyrene packs on Jan 1 is a step in the right direction in addressing the problem of plastic waste.

However, there is another “elephant” which has been polluting the environment and has gone unnoticed by the authorities, plastic bottles.

Once trapped in the ocean or a landfill, plastic bottles could take up to 400 years to decompose.

The US-based National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration listed plastic bottles and bottle caps as among the most found plastic waste in the ocean.

Plastic bottles were among the 20 most found trash items in the ocean which has an impact on turtles, birds and mammals based on a study done by the Ocean Conservancy and Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).

A Selayang Municipal Council enforcement officer walking by a pile of plastic bottles that was illegally dumped in Taman Rimba Templer’s Park in Rawang. – filepic
A Selayang Municipal Council enforcement officer walking by a pile of plastic bottles that was illegally dumped in Taman Rimba Templer’s Park in Rawang. – filepic 

Based on their report, some eight million metric tonnes of plastic waste leaks into the world’s ocean every year and the amount continues to grow.

National Drainage and Irrigation Department corporate director Datuk Mohd Azmi Ismail said plastic bottles were among the three most commonly found trash in the rivers besides polystyrene and plastic bags.

“The Government has placed numerous trash traps in our rivers to ensure the rubbish does not flow far.

“However the cleaning up process at the trash traps are costly. It would be so much cheaper if people could just separate their waste at the source,” said Mohd Azmi.

Based on a study by the National Solid Waste Management Depart-ment in 2012, plastic waste made up 14% of the total daily household waste composition in the country.

When plastic items were segmented, the bulk of plastic waste consisted of Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE) which stood at 31.1% (717 tonnes). This included items such as plastic bags and plastic containers.

The High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE) waste made up 26.2% of the plastic waste. This amounts to 604 tonnes of waste consisting of bottle caps, detergent bottles, plastic bag and plastic pipes.

The third most common plastic waste was the Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) which made up 16.2% of the total plastic waste and weighing 374 tonnes. The body of drinking bottles are mostly PET based.

Polystyrene (PS) consists of 13% of the total plastic waste weighing 299 tonnes.

Rubbish made up of plastic bottles and polystyrene containers trapped at a rubbish trap in Batu River, Selangor. – filepic
Rubbish made up of plastic bottles and polystyrene containers trapped at a rubbish trap in Batu River, Selangor. – filepic

The National Solid Waste Management Department revealed that almost 90% of plastic bottles was removed from household trash before they reached the landfill.

Its director-general Ismail Mokhtar said the number of plastic bottles which ended up at landfills was small.

“We have scavengers who collect all these bottles even before they reach the landfill,” he said, adding that the department always supported any measure to reduce solid waste.

“The department is of the view that any effort to ban the use of certain materials for packaging purposes requires research in all aspects. This is to avoid any negative impact on consumers, producers and the environment,” he said.

Non-profit bodies

The Sekinchan Fishermen Welfare Association chairman Chia Tian Hee said consumers’ habit of irresponsibly discarding plastic bottles was the issue.

In Sekinchan, the problem was with the attitude of certain restaurant operators who dumped plastic waste and bottles into the river, said Chia who has 300 members in the association.

“The floating plastic bottles at the sea and rivers is an eyesore especially at tourist spots,” said Chia.

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