WE refer to your recent report “Malacca bans plastic bags” (The Star, Dec 30).
Plastic bags and polystyrene (PS) containers should be recycled instead of being banned.
A knee-jerk ban of these useful, inexpensive and safe products merely results in higher costs for consumers in Malacca with no change in society’s attitude towards waste separation and recycling.
More importantly, such a ban does nothing to curb the littering habit, which is the real source of pollution and harm to the environment.
This is why the Malaysian Plastics Manufacturers Association (MPMA) launched its “Don’t Be A Litterbug” campaign in 2012, to raise awareness and push the message that littering harms the environment.
Furthermore, banning plastic bags and PS foam food containers, and forcing a switch to biodegradable bags or natural fibre containers will directly increase the cost of most products in Malacca.
The higher cost of hawker food for example, especially for take-away or “tapau”, will be passed on to customers who are already feeling the pinch from GST as well as the ever-increasing inflationary costs.
Hawkers, already struggling to run their small businesses due to inflation and the impact of GST, will probably end up as the real victims of the ban on plastic bags and PS.
Plastic bags and PS foam food containers are popular and hard to replace in Malaysia because they are inexpensive and environmentally safe to use.
Plastic including plastic bags, whether in terms of the total energy used, fossil fuel used or GHG emission, have the lowest environmental impact compared to other packaging materials, as published in “Life cycle assessment of supermarket carrier Bags”, a UK Environment Agency report in 2011.
Plastics packaging has among the smallest carbon footprints, requiring 90% less energy to recycle and constitutes 80% less volume than other materials.
MPMA is also of the view that the usage of biodegradable bags made of plant-based materials is not the way towards being a green state.
The UK Environment Agency Study shows that starch-polyester blend bags (bio-bags) have a higher global warming potential than conventional polymer bags, due to the increased weight of material in a bag, higher material production impact and a higher end-of-life impact in landfills.
MPMA believes that plastic bags should not be banned as currently they have the lowest environmental impact based on LCA when compared to bags made from other materials.
Meanwhile, 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 is widely used in developed countries such as the United States, Japan and in the European region shows that PS is not hazardous.
And it is about 35% cheaper than some of the biodegradable paper or natural fibre containers in the market.
PS packaging solutions are increasingly recognised as preferable compared to other packaging materials for a number of reasons including their lightweight properties.
In some cases, post-consumer recycled PS have become “green building” construction products.
The Malacca state government has adopted mandatory waste separation under the Solid Waste and Public Cleansing Management Act 2007 (Act 672).
This means plastics including PS can be separated for recycling, instead of being disposed in landfills.
MPMA has been collaborating with local authorities such as Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) and the Solid Waste and Public Cleansing Management Corporation (SWCorp) in public-private partnerships in working towards an organised waste separation system as well as educating the public on plastics waste management.
To emulate the cleanliness of countries like Japan, we must learn from them and match their policies and inculcate their good habit of not littering.
Government authorities must educate the public on the importance of not littering as well as enforce their anti-littering fines.
The positive impact generated from recycling and curbing the littering habit will be more evident than banning plastic bags and PS, as we work together for a cleaner and more beautiful Malaysia.
DATUK LIM KOK BOON
Malaysian Plastics Manufacturers Association (MPMA)