Back to old habits

Paying no heed to ban: Petaling Jaya City Council food court traders have reverted to single-use plastics when serving food.

SINGLE-use plastics is making a comeback at restaurants and even food courts managed by local councils.

While it is common to see food served on polystyrene plates, drinks come in single-use plastic cups with straws. Plastic forks and spoons are provided with meals, too.

StarMetro visited food courts in Petaling Jaya which fall under the purview of the Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) and found that almost all food traders resort to using single-use plastics.

At the Section 14 Medan Selera, a nasi lemak hawker is using polystyrene plates to serve customers.

The seller, however, prefers single-use plastic bowls to serve lontong.

Then there was a drink vendor serving cold drinks in a single-use plastic cup that comes with a lid and straw.

This particular drink seller was also seen washing the single-use cups and reusing them.

In the Medan Selera at Complex C in Section 52, a nasi kandar hawker was selling rice and dishes on plastic plates covered with a transparent plastic sheet.

Food traders do this to avoid wasting time washing and removing grease from plates.

This seller’s hygiene practises were less than satisfactory as customers were allowed to scoop up rice using a plate covered with plastic that was kept in the rice container.

The plate had been touched by hundreds of people who repeatedly put the “scoop plate” back into the rice container.

At this food court, almost all drink sellers opted for single-use straws.

Petaling Jaya mayor Mohamad Azhan Md Azmir, when contacted, said he would check with the departments in charge of monitoring food traders.

Need for better enforcement

Environment and waste management expert Dr Theng Lee Chong said the main reason why traders reverted to single-use plastic could be traced to lack of enforcement.“A lot of go green campaigns are based on syiok sendiri (self-fulfilling) initiatives by the authorities.

“When there is no enforcement, traders do what is convenient and as they wish.

“Cost is another reason why traders are opting for single-use plastics. Restaurant owners could also be facing manpower shortage in washing reusable plates.

“However, this is no excuse as the commercial sector has a role to play in helping the ban on single-use plastics work.

“I feel we have gone back in time by 10 years concerning plastic usage,” said Dr Theng.

He added that while traders needed to make a profit to survive, the policy ban of single-use plastics, introduced by the authorities, had no reason to fail.

Dr Theng said it was time for the authorities to revisit Malaysia’s Roadmap Towards Zero Single-Use Plastics 2018-2030.

It was necessary to take an evidence-based and holistic approach by involving all stakeholders in jointly addressing the single-use plastics pollution issue in the country, he added.

NGOs weigh in

Plastic waste ending up in the rubbish disposal systems are burdening landfills.

Greenpeace Malaysia public engagement campaigner Hema Mahadevan said: “When it comes to throwing away disposable plastic items, there is no such thing as ‘away’.

“Plastic items must go somewhere and that usually means to our already overburdened landfills.

“There have been ongoing discussions including Selangor’s ban in July 2019 on banning different forms of single-use plastics.

“Like most policies that need enforcing, local councils should lead by example by reducing the amount of disposable plastics used including items such as single-use plastic plates, straws and bottles,” said Hema.

She added that despite the ban being in force, traders were still not adhering to the directive.

“Lack of manpower is the local councils’ biggest concern when it comes to enforcement and waste management issues.

“As such, the best practices in this regard should be focused on stopping the problem at its source by prioritising policies on reducing throw away, single-use plastic items and switching to refill and reuse systems.

“Ideally customers should bring food containers when taking away food,” she said.

Hema added that most biodegradable plastics available today would not decompose at landfills.

This, she said was a prime example of industry “greenwashing” where customers were made to feel that they were using an environmentally-friendly product which was just as bad.

The Biji-Biji Initiative, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) championing sustainable efforts, also pointed to lack of enforcement as the culprit.

Its chief executive officer Juliana Adam said food and beverage industry players needed to be further educated and they, in turn, must teach staff on sustainable habits.

“Many times, we will find ourselves asking for no straws or no plastic cutlery, yet the floor staff gives us these items.

“We have Malaysia’s Roadmap Towards Zero Single-Use Plastics 2018-2030, championed by the Environment and Water Ministry (Kasa).

“Efforts and initiatives need to be ramped up so that we as a nation can meet our 2030 target.

“What would be key is on reporting and data transparency on where we stand so that all stakeholders can step up and play their part.

“I feel that emphasis on ensuring that the roadmap targets are met and on track is absent due to the lack of importance placed on this matter.

“This is the main root cause of our nation’s single-use plastics problem.

“We don’t understand the urgency of the plastic waste issue and how we are destroying our own future,” said Juliana.

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