Aim for new norm in disposal culture

Some food operators say there are noticeably more customers who bring along their own containers for food takeaway since the second MCO was enforced in January.

MENTION the new norm brought on by Covid-19, and we usually associate it with face masks, hand sanitisers and physical distancing.

Another that comes to mind is food takeaways, or the rise in this practice.

As Malaysians began spending more time at home since the first movement control order in March last year, there was a boom in food deliveries.

However, this convenience comes with a price – the rise in single-use food packaging and containers that end up in the rubbish bin.

This is on top of the large amounts of disposable face masks and personal protective equipment being discarded every day.

There have been various news reports highlighting the threats and toll that the surge in food takeaways and deliveries is having on the environment.

As responsible citizens, we should have greater awareness about this and play a more active role in reducing the use of single-use food packaging.

Art teacher Koh Wei Jing, a 37-year-old mother of three girls, shared that it was her young daughters who influenced her to be more environmentally aware about the family’s use of disposable food containers.

“I mostly make meals at home since the pandemic started but we still head out occasionally for takeaways.

“My daughters, who previously learnt about being kind to the environment at their kindergarten, always remind me to bring along our own food containers and utensils to avoid using disposable food packaging.

“In the spirit of preventing wastage, we also make it a point not to take unnecessary condiment packets and plastic bags,” she said.

Environmentally conscious Mohd Aizad Osman, 30, has gone a step further — he has chosen not to instal any food delivery service applications on his smartphone.

The corporate communications executive at a waste management company said he has made a habit of packing home-cooked meals to work over the past six years, which he thinks is healthier for both his body and the environment.

“I usually prepare a week’s worth of meals and freeze them so I can easily reheat and consume whenever I want to.

“I also make sure there are always food containers in my car, in case I want to buy food,” he said.

In his opinion, practising good environmental habits starts from within and working at a waste management company makes it easy for him to practice what he preaches.

Mohd Aizad said he noticed many colleagues bringing home-cooked meals in reusable containers to the office since the pandemic started.

Johor Baru Coffee, Restaurant and Bar Operators Association chairman Tiong Kiu Wong said since the second MCO was enforced in January, there were noticeably more customers bringing their own containers to pack food for takeaway.

“This is a good sign as it means that consumers are more aware about preventing wastage,” he said, adding that good habits also helped food operators save cost.

Tiong said some food operators had to spend more on food containers because many people opted for takeaways and food delivery services due to Covid-19.

University Teknologi Malaysia School of Education chair Prof Dr Fatin Aliah Phang, however, said many Malaysians were still not willing to spend more or go the extra mile to be kind to the environment.

“I would say that the awareness among Malaysians in this aspect is still not strong enough and one way to drive it is through key opinion leaders and celebrities.

“This is because Malaysians are followers. Celebrities, influencers and politicians, who have more significant reach now via social media, are able to drive such awareness and pressure the public to make more environmentally conscious changes.

“That can be followed by education, which will then bring forward a lifestyle change and eventually make such practices a part of our culture,” she said, noting that many companies and food operators have switched to biodegradable packaging.

All of us have a part to play in taking care of the environment for the sake of the next generation and as the saying goes, “if we want to change things, we must first change ourselves.”

Personally, I started saying no to the addictive bubble tea drinks that were all the craze after thinking how much junk I would be contributing to the landfills, not to mention all the sugar going into my system.

I also try to remind myself not to choose convenience over the well-being of the earth.

So what steps have you taken to be kinder to the environment?

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