GEORGE TOWN: Plastic bags are almost totally unnecessary as long as people bring their own bags or containers when they make purchases, says an executive councillor.
"Nearly all plastic bags end up as part of the municipal waste.
"Most are soiled, oily and full of contaminants. They need to be thoroughly cleaned before they are sorted and shredded, and then cleaned again before they are melted for recycling," said state environment committee chairman Phee Boon Poh.
The process, he said, left recycling factories frustrated because of the amount of manpower, water and energy needed to recycle plastic bags.
And to make it worse, Phee said the grade of plastic from recycling plastic bags was at the bottom of the value chain, making it even more de-motivating for recyclers.
"Look at advanced countries like Japan, Australia or Canada. They have even better technologies than us and yet, they export plastic bag waste instead of recycling them," he said.
Before 2018, Malaysian recyclers were allowed to import plastic waste from such countries and many of the shipments came through Penang Port.
After it was stopped, seized containers were found filled with municipal plastic waste, most of which were plastic bags.
"It is time for Malaysian consumers to realise that even buying takeaways that come in plastic bags hurts the environment.
"In Penang, we cut down plastic bag use by 78% between 2020 and 2021. Now, we are moving on to encouraging consumers to bring their own bags and containers when they patronise hawkers and wet markets," he said.
Large retailers like supermarkets, hypermarkets, pharmacies and convenience stores do not provide plastic bags in Penang from Monday to Wednesday.
From Thursday to Sunday, shoppers must pay RM1 for each bag.
This payment will be channelled to the government to fund environmental conservation programmes.