WE refer to the letter “Look into banning single-use plastic bags”, (The Star, Sept 10).
Plastic bags and polystyrene (PS) are often mistaken to be “harmful” because it does not degrade. In fact, degradation causes the release of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas (GHG), that causes global warming.
Degradation in the absence of oxygen at landfills is harmful as methane gas, which is 22 times more harmful than carbon dioxide as a GHG, is released into the atmosphere. It is an established fact that global warming has resulted in changes in the global weather pattern and has caused massive hardship due to the adverse effects of floods, droughts, etc. Rather than form an opinion based on perception, an equitable basis must be adopted to assess the carbon footprint of a material.
It is therefore necessary to measure all the parameters right from the initial stage of the raw material (cradle) up to its end of life (grave) at the disposal stage across all packaging materials. This cradle-to-grave technique, also known as Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), is essential to judge, holistically, how a product impacts the environment.
Plastic bags, whether in terms of the total energy or fossil fuel used or greenhouse gas emission has the lowest environmental impact compared to other packaging materials. This form of packaging has among the smallest carbon footprints, requiring 90% less energy to recycle and constituting 80% less volume than other materials. Its waterproof characteristic makes it convenient for carrying wet food products in particular, while its strong mechanical properties gives it a much higher advantage in carrying heavier loads compared to paper.
Likewise, polystyrene (PS) foam food containers are widely used because they are safe and cheap and also waterproof. PS foam has been certified under the Malaysian Food Act 1983 (Act 281) and Sirim for use as a food contact packaging material.
The fact that it’s also widely used in developed countries such as the United States, Japan and those in the European region shows PS is not hazardous.
Above all, blanket bans will not help the environment in any meaningful way when the real issue is litter whether it is plastic, paper or metal. Litter and poor disposal of waste cause damage to the environment.
The most appropriate long-term solution is, and always has been, to fight litter in all forms and implement an effective waste separation and recycling system.
To succeed, this solution must be implemented through education, encouragement and, finally, enforcement especially against litterbugs.
The Malaysian Plastics Manufacturers Association (MPMA) launched its Don’t Be A Litterbug campaign in 2012 to address the source of environmental damage and to educate people on the need to properly dispose of waste. More recently, MPMA organised the Litter-Free Ramadan event at the Kampung Baru Bazaar to demonstrate proper waste separation, as well as to provide brochures with information on recycling and steps to separate recyclables.
Let’s together make a pledge to protect the environment by doing two simple things – stop littering, and practise the 3Rs. It does not take a “No Plastics Bag Day” or a levy on plastic bags to protect the environment. It takes self-realisation and a commitment, and it should come from everyone.
DATUK LIM KOK BOON
Malaysian Plastics Manufacturers Association