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A ruling, effective Jan 1, now bans the use of plastic bags and polystyrene containers in the Federal Territories and Selangor. Pix by Faiz Anuar/ NSTP

MALAYSIA has welcomed the New Year. Some of her people, on the other hand, may have not.

Changes have engulfed KLites and Selangorians as we can no longer use plastic bags and polystyrene containers that we joyfully used to pack our nasi lemak and mamak mee goreng.

A ruling, effective Jan 1, now bans the use of plastic bags and polystyrene containers in the Federal Territories and Selangor.

I observe, with great interest, the comments and reactions by Netizens. Some applauded the effort and, of course, some complained while others find it pointless as they will still be required to use the big 100-litre plastic bags for their garbage bins. At the end of the day, instead of reusing plastic bags from grocery stores or supermarkets, one has to make additional purchases of bin liners.

It was a fair assessment, I thought to myself, but I found it hard trying to understand the situation. I also could not help but to reflect on my time in the United Kingdom, where I was forced to live by the rules of recycling.

As a Malaysian, it is shameful but I cannot exactly grasp the culture of recycling. I understand there have been attempts at raising environmental awareness in the country.

Seeing coloured bins for collecting recyclable stuff placed almost everywhere in the UK did not have much effect on me just as here.

But to actually witness my friends and strangers segregating their trash by the roadside in the UK was an eye-opener. For a fact, it was an encouraging sight as it enabled a sense of trust in the system and culture of recycling there.

However, coming back, I was not too sure of the culture here, especially since you constantly hear rumours of your segregated trash being picked up and mixed together again by other people.

It is a shame that you might start off with plenty of motivation, thinking that you did your part in trying to save the environment, but in actual truth, it would not.

And so the discouraging environment counters you and you abandon your environmental-friendly ambitions. It certainly is not one of my proudest moments to allow myself to be influenced by my surroundings instead of sticking to my principles.

However, it made me realise how much recycling is beyond an instruction or introduction of a culture, but an education as a whole.

The comments on Facebook made me realise the alternatives and resources available for one to understand how to be environmentally-friendly and realise the need to recycle.

I read some comments that condemned those as “ignorant” or “foolish”, but one could not help but think that they showed a genuine lack of awareness. For instance, “How do I throw away my wet food now?”

The alternative Tupperware, too, does not fulfil the objectives and aims of banning plastic bags and polystyrene because it is itself a plastic of a different kind. Comments like these further reiterate my point on the importance of awareness — and the lack thereof that exists.

Awareness in itself cannot be judged by an instruction from an
authority, but it should come from the understanding of why such a
ban is needed, and the extra effort to
get creative when disposing of biodegradable waste.

We need to “sacrifice” that ease of easily disposing of our garbage, and be responsible and take control of the waste that are thrown out of our houses.

As a nation that should be achieving and becoming a developed society, we need to be open to sacrifices. Memories of having to abide by the UK City Council laws and being susceptible to fines for not disposing or segregating my trash properly still haunts me today.

I admit, the first few weeks were tedious and time-consuming. But after a while, it gave me a “feel good” feeling as I knew I had contributed to improving the earth.

It also made me respect the men working at the city council, for they taught me of my responsibility as a citizen and to respect people regardless of their occupation.

Following the ban here, I could not help but notice the irony of a state halfway around the world that had banned the banning of plastic bags.

On Jan 1, a new state law in Michigan , the United States, had prevented cities and counties from restricting the use of plastic bags.

Although it does not have any environmental reason behind its “banning of the ban on plastic bags”, it is an interesting case, especially since Michigan is in a developed country.

As a whole, it was a welcoming 2017 for Malaysians. Who would have thought that simple acts of segregating trash and reusing a tote bag, which is the norm in some parts of the world now, are barely understood in Malaysia?

Malaysia’s exposure to the West and its ideologies are two-fold and plenty. Surely, among the many cultural influences that the Western world have influenced Malaysians, one of them would be the simple act of being communal, understanding and making sacrifices for a bigger cause?

The writer, a grand-daughter of former prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra al-Haj, is a fresh law graduate trying hard to find her place after spending some time in Northern England during her studies at Manchester University. She is also the daughter of the Tengku Temenggong of Kelantan.

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