No more plastic bags on Mondays

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  • Tuesday, 25 Jun 2019

A shopper using her own recycling bag while shopping at Gama Supermarket and Departmental Store in George Town.

WHEN you go for your weekly grocery shopping starting Monday, do not be alarmed if you’re refused a plastic bag.

Penang has taken its statewide plastic bag ban one step further – no plastic bag even if you’re more than willing to pay 20 sen for one.

State environment committee chairman Phee Boon Poh said for a start, the move would only take place every Monday.

He said the initiative, on a voluntary basis, was meant to encourage operators of fixed premises – hypermarkets, pharmacies, and convenience and department stores – to stop giving out plastic bags to shoppers.

I find it laudable that the state chose to execute such a move patiently and diplomatically, instead of outright denying the public the use of plastic bags.

A softer and less harsher approach before we go ‘Zero Plastic Bag Day’ permanently would give people time to adapt and accept that plastic packaging should no longer be an option for the sake of the environment.

There are times when passive-agressive initiatives are more likely to succeed than any affirmative action would, and this is perhaps one such instance.

Phee after all, did say that the state does not want people “to do it just because it is a policy”.

I am supportive of a government that aims to not just impose its green initiatives for the sake of it, but also educate its citizens on the importance of practising green habits through them.

These are good initiatives to ensure the plastic bag ban would be sustainable in the long run.

The Penang government first introduced the ‘No Plastic Bag Day’ policy in 2009.

It started with the ruling that no free plastic bag would be given on Mondays, before the move was extended to three days in a week in 2010, and daily in 2011 for certain businesses.

If you want a plastic bag, you have to pay 20 sen.

But are such diplomatic approaches good enough to inspire Penangites, and ultimately Malaysians to change their attitudes and shift their mindsets towards embracing the green culture?

Is the policy effective in reducing the usage of plastic bags after 10 years?

Maybe, although it’s hard to say if the 20sen payment is strong enough a deterrent to keep people from purchasing a plastic bag.

But I do observe that many shoppers bring their own shopping bags nowadays.

At the same time, I also notice that we are consuming more plastic now than ever.

Most of our grocery items have been conveniently packaged with plastic wrappings and containers – all of which are disposable and non-essential.

While packaging are done by supermarkets and beyond our control, you cannot deny that we have been spoilt by such convenience of shopping in this day and age.

How about having a cuppa after shopping? We refuse plastic straws, only to end up drinking from attractive, hipster-looking cups, which in some instances, are made of plastic.

I could go on and on about the rise of single-use plastic, all supposedly manufactured and designed to make things convenient for our fast-paced hectic lifestyle.

Saying no to plastic bags is a good start, but perhaps we could also look beyond reducing and eliminating the use of plastic bags.

Over the years, I have cultivated a habit of bringing my own shopping bag although I am still far from practising zero-plastic habit.

Realistically, it is almost impossible to not be surrounded by it.

Even some of our eco-friendly bags are lined with plastic.

Will we ever do away with plastic bags completely? Maybe not ever.

But we can start by shifting and expanding our focus, from reducing and eliminating plastic bag usage to other aspects that could help the environment, such as changing our consumerist habits.

Perhaps cutting down on buying things that we don’t need, and re-purposing our used products before we mindlessly discard them are some of the ‘green’ ways we can consider practising.

After all, a little mindfulness goes a long way.

At the end of the day, the environmental initiatives should last beyond that of a plastic bag’s lifespan, instead of being reduced to just another green fad.

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