Ensuring accountability in 20sen plastic bag charge

  • Metro News
  • Friday, 01 Nov 2019

In the past nine years, state governments and local councils in Malaysia have implemented the 20sen charge for plastic bags to reduce their use. — filepic

EDIBLE gardens, tree planting and free reusable bags — these are among the areas that would benefit from the 20sen collected from the sale of plastic bags when Selangor started its “No Plastic Bag” policy in 2010.

When contacted, Tesco Stores said it had planted 202,400 trees, adopted 16 schools for a programme that teaches pupils how to grow vegetables, herbs and fruits, and turned food waste into compost with the money collected since 2010.

It is also working with the Malaysian Timber Industry Council on a conservation programme.

Unlike Penang where the money collected goes to the state government, retailers in Selangor are encouraged to invest the funds into environment-centric programmes. The Selangor government does request for regular reports on such activities from retailers.

In Kuala Lumpur, the collection is used to offset the cost of biodegradable bags which are much more expensive compared to conventional plastic ones.

What about the rest? Most retailers in Selangor are reluctant to disclose where the 20sen charge for plastic bags goes to.

Federation of Malaysian Consumers Associations deputy president Mohd Yusof Abdul said it was their right not to reveal how much had been collected.

“Technically, the 20sen charge for each plastic shopping bag collected becomes income for the supermarket,” said Mohd Yusof.

He said this was because the customer was not forced to accept the plastic bag or pay the 20sen.

“The stores do not forbid customers from bringing their own bags, boxes or wheeling the groceries to their car themselves.”

So, when customers chose to pay the retailer the 20sen charge, technically, it was in payment for an item, he added.

No hard figures

In July 2017, then Selangor tourism, environment, green technology and consumer affairs exco Elizabeth Wong said during the state legislative assembly sitting that the “No to plastic bags and polystyrene” campaign had amassed RM1.87mil from January to May.

“Of the total, 63.98% of the collection was from supermarket operators and the rest was from operators of food premises,” said Wong.

Earlier in the same year, it was reported that retail chain 99 Speedmart had channelled RM550,000 collected from the 20sen charge to Klang Municipal Council (MPK).

The then MPK secretary Adi Faizal Ahmad Tarmizi (now Selangor State Sports Council executive director) said the money would be used to clean up the town, beautify Klang River and support the Visit Klang Year 2017 programme.

Without solid data and figures, Asean Retail Chains and Franchise Federation (ARFF) president Professor Datuk Dr Jayles Yeoh said there was no way to ascertain how retailers were channelling their 20sen collection.

But due to the impact of plastics on the environment, Prof Yeoh said it was a matter of ethics for retailers to ensure the 20sen charge was set aside for green causes.

Authorities would need to come up with a legal framework so that some form of monitoring could be done, he said.

“The 20sen collection is not for profit but a way of encouraging people to bring their own shopping bags and reduce the use of plastic bags. So, retailers should make sure it goes to environmental projects,” he added.

National policy needed

One of the biggest setbacks is that there is no standardised policy nationwide on the single-use plastics ban or roadmap.

From the “No Plastic Bag Day” campaign to “No Free Plastic Bag” policy and of late, “zero plastic bag” initiative, the policy differed from state to state, which led to confusion, said Malaysia Retailers Association (MRA) general manager Evelyn Cheong.

“This is especially so with retailers who have branches all over the country.

Cheong says there is a need for a nationwide policy on plastic bags.Cheong says there is a need for a nationwide policy on plastic bags.

“What we need is a standard policy spearheaded by a single government agency.

“Retailers are more than willing to support as it is our collective responsibility to protect the environment,” said Cheong

In Perak for example, the “No Plastic Bag” policy is only on Saturday, so retailers can only impose the 20sen charge to customers who want plastic bags on that day.

In Selangor, the policy had been extended to every day of the week since 2017, while the Federal Territories only implemented it in March this year.

In addition to brick-and-mortar retailers, the policy should also be extended to coffee shops, neighbourhood grocery stores as well as wet and night markets where single-use plastic bags were still being freely dispensed, said Cheong.

She noted that there were instances where the dispensing of plastic bags, if not enforced holistically, might be used as a competitive edge among retailers.

Having a blanket rule was one way to put everyone on an equal footing, she added.

MRA is also calling for more awareness programmes so that the burden of educating consumers would not be borne by retailers alone.

Clearing the air

At a recent press conference, state environment, green technology and consumer affairs committee chairman Hee Loy Sian said that due to compliance issues, the Selangor government would take over collection of the 20sen charge for each plastic bag beginning Jan 1 next year.

“Because they don’t want their customers to get angry, some are either not collecting the charge or if they do, are giving away more than one bag.

“Since the levy imposed by retailers is no longer effective, the state government is taking over. The collection will be done by the local councils.

“They will refer to invoices issued by plastic bag suppliers to retailers as a way of keeping track of the amount to be collected. If the invoice states 1,000 bags have been billed, then we will multiply the number by 20sen,” said Hee.

Prof Yeoh says the money collected should go to green causes.Prof Yeoh says the money collected should go to green causes.

Reiterating Selangor’s determination to win the battle against plastics, he said working papers for the state government’s takeover of the collection of the 20sen charge were drawn up and presented at the executive council meeting in October.

The arrangement will see local councils reaping a 40% share of the collection.

All monies collected will go towards environmental causes like tree planting, beach clean-up, waste management and separation, school programmes and producing recyclable shopping bags for consumers.

“We should be seeing a gradual reduction of the 20sen collection.

“If it is seen to increase over time, that is a sign that the ‘No Plastic Bag’ campaign has failed,” said Hee.

When contacted, Malaysia Retail Chain Association president Datuk Seri Garry Chua said its members would have no issue complying with the directive as long as the process was straightforward.

Cheong agreed, saying that “Retailers are not in the business of selling single-use plastic bags and therefore, there is no intention to make money out of it.”“The 20sen charge has helped achieve the overall objective of reducing single-use plastics from the ecosystem,” she added.

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plastic bag , 20sen , environment


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