MARINE litter is a serious issue in South-East Asia. Studies show that around 60% of marine plastic debris enters the ocean from Malaysia, China, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines.
Even though plastic leakage into the rivers and seas is considered less drastic in Malaysia compared to its neighbours, we still need a comprehensive policy to address this problem.
Malaysia has the highest annual per capita plastic use compared to other countries in South-East Asia and China at 16.78kg per person (WWF, 2020). The Environment and Water Ministry’s efforts to develop the National Marine Litter Policy and Action Plan 2021–2030 will provide a much anticipated and essential framework in addressing this crisis.
Meanwhile, Malaysia’s carbon emissions associated with plastic, from production to burning, amounted to 860 million tonnes in 2019, far more than the annual emissions of Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines combined. This indicates a glaring lack of material recovery and recycling activities in Malaysia that leads to other issues like overflowing landfills, groundwater contamination through leachate and overall contribution to marine plastic pollution.
Globally, the volume of plastic waste going into the ocean is set to quadruple between 2010 and 2050, and we have yet to come up with executable solutions to mitigate this problem before it gets out of hand.
The monumental impact of Covid-19 is among the main concerns, as single-use plastics remain widely used for takeaway food packaging and e-commerce. The problem is threatening to derail the government’s Roadmap Towards Single-Use Plastics 2018-2030, which was launched in 2018.
With dining in at food outlets still not allowed in most states, takeaways and ordering food via online delivery platforms have become a habit for a large section of the population. In order to prevent spillage and maintain quality, many food and beverage outlets wrap the food/drinks in multiple layers of plastic, with each component (e.g sauces, seasoning, soup) wrapped individually.
The mandatory use of disposable face mask as protection against Covid-19 is equally concerning, as improper disposal of these items will add to the overwhelming amount of plastic waste in the environment, including the oceans.
Scenes of face masks scattered on the roadside after being thoughtlessly discarded by users have been very common of late. Masks have also been found floating like jellyfish in the ocean and waterlogged latex gloves are scattered on the seabed.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) like masks, gloves and wipes are made from multiple plastic fibres, primarily polypropylene. These will remain in the environment for decades, and possibly centuries, fragmenting into smaller microplastics and nanoplastics as time goes on.
A single face mask can release as many as 173,000 microfibres per day into the sea, according to a study published in the journal Environmental Advances (2021).
I implore the public to be more mindful in their use of plastic packaging, particularly single-use plastics. Think before you make your online purchases, and bring your own containers when buying food or drinks whenever possible.
Always dispose of your PPE safely in a bin with a closed lid. Practise waste segregation at home and always rinse your recyclable plastic before placing them in the recycling bin to ensure the highest rate of material recovery.
You can also try composting your organic/kitchen waste for your potted plants or garden. Every small step that you take today counts in building a healthy and sustainable lifestyle.
AMRITA KAUR ARULDAS
Alor Gajah, Melaka