GEORGE TOWN: Adicating plastic waste should begin at the product-packaging level at factories or farms.
Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) Penang branch adviser D. Kanda Kumar said the charge imposed on plastic bags at shopping malls, grocery shops and convenience stores, and the ban on straws, did help.
However, he said, the bigger consumption of plastics came from the packaging of products, ranging from toiletries to vegetables, milk powder, frozen goods and mineral water.
“You save one plastic bag by taking your bag to the mall, but you go back home with at least 10 small plastic bags.
“The only way to tackle and reduce plastic usage is to tax manufacturers, product processing centres and packaging centres for their use of plastic.
“This will become incentives for them to start using alternative and sustainable packaging, including biodegradable plastics,” he told the New Straits Times (NST).
A survey conducted by the NST at grocery shops, convenience stores and supermarkets showed that 90 per cent of products were packed in plastic bags or bottles, which were recyclable, but not biodegradable.
Kanda’s call came in the wake of the Penang’s total ban on single-use plastic bags every Monday at permanent trade premises such as hypermarkets, pharmacies, convenience shops and department stores.
The ban, which begins on July 1, disallows traders from providing any plastic bag to customers even if they were willing to pay 20 sen for it.
However, shoppers can buy a single-use plastic bag for 20 sen during the other days of the week.
Single-use plastic consumption became an issue of contention when news outlets worldwide began reporting about developed countries shipping their plastic waste to Malaysia and other countries in the region.
In February, an English weekly described Malaysia as the world’s top dumping site for plastic.
This occurred as large amounts of plastic waste from developing countries were rerouted to Malaysia and other countries in the region following China’s ban on the import of plastic waste since last year.
When commenting on alternatives to plastics, Kanda said a trend in a few Asian countries to wrap vegetables in banana leaves was unsustainable as traders would find problems in sourcing the leaves in the long term.
“It will help, but we cannot depend on it to be the only solution.
“Manufacturers must be compelled to explore more sustainable options.
“For this to be done, there must be legislation, clear government policies and enforcement.”
Consumer Association of Penang acting president Mohideen Abdul Kader urged the private sector to lead the charge in coming up with alternatives to plastic packaging.
He said the private sector, which included manufacturers, was the biggest user of plastic packaging and it must take responsibility by developing biodegradable plastic alternatives.
“Companies must reduce production waste and post-consumer waste.
“These companies must take financial responsibility for managing post-consumer waste, which includes plastic waste.
“Redesigning products, packaging and delivery systems to eliminate the use of single-use plastic products and packaging is the solution to plastic pollution.”
He said governments were passing regulations to reduce or ban single-use plastic because it was clear that the world could not “recycle its way out” of the plastic pollution.
“We want regulations and enforcement.”
He urged local governments and the government to prioritise policies to ban toxic substance in plastics because these chemicals prevented the material from being recycled in an environmentally-friendly way.
He said the association supported global initiatives to control plastic waste and it was hoped that these campaigns could be adopted locally.