Since the first effort to educate the public to reduce plastic bag usage through the No Plastic Bag Campaign in 2007, there have been several issues.
They included how effective was the campaign to change consumer behaviour, what are the alternatives and who should manage the funds (a consumer has to pay 20 sen for a plastic bag).
The concept of plastic bag tax or levy is environmental taxation which has focused primarily on producer-generated pollution to internalise the external cost of pollution to the environment.
The tax/levy to the consumer is to stimulate behavioural changes with the aim of reducing the use of plastic bags. This plastic bag levy is popular in Denmark, the United Kingdom, Ireland and South Africa. The government plays a role by influencing consumer participation in sustainable consumption.
In Malaysia, the plastic bag charges are not compulsory or a government tax. The consumer either pays for a plastic bag or brings his own grocery bag.
A study in 2013 assessed the effect of the campaign on plastic bag charges in Selangor. Some 253 consumers were interviewed at hypermarkets and supermarkets. The study came up with four types of consumers based on shopping practices — the green shoppers, the campaign supporters, strategic green shoppers and plastic bag charge shoppers.
The study showed that 80 per cent of the consumers were willing to pay equal or more than 20 sen for each plastic bag.
It also showed that the supporters of the plastic bag tax were from the higher income group and women.
Countries that partially ban the use of plastic bags provide alternatives, such as imposing a plastic bag tax, improving thickness of the plastic for reuse and promoting or encouraging sustainable shopping lifestyle by promoting other types of shopping bags such as jute bags, cloth bags and others.
If Malaysia wants to opt for the plastic bag tax, educational awareness of the danger of plastic bag use and environmental damage must be continued.
Besides a specific law to regulate the tax or levy, there must be a clear mechanism on how the levy works.
The plastic bag tax can function as a stimulus to nudge society towards a non-littering environment and promote a sustainable shopping lifestyle.
IRINA SAFITRI ZEN
Senior lecturer, Faculty of Built Environment and Surveying, Research Fellow, Institute Sultan Iskandar, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, Johor Baru