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‘Declare every day a no-plastic-bag day nationwide’

The world over, governments and environment protection groups are working tirelessly to create awareness on the importance of protecting the environment. It is of no surprise that environmental issues such as air pollution, spills and ineffective waste management do result in adverse consequences.

Needless to say, a healthy environment is important to sustain a healthy society, both of which are vital drivers of growth. Awareness campaigns are ongoing, stressing on the criticality of access to clean water and air as vital resources for survival. Yet, we continue to threaten our very own existence and that of the future generations by undertaking environmentally harmful and detrimental activities.

As population increases, so does consumption and disposal. It is worth noting that in just one decade, from 2003 to 2013, Malaysia’s municipal solid waste recorded an increase of 91 percent. Certainly, waste management initiatives are topics of heightened discussion.

One classic example is the excessive use of plastic bags. As consumers we must ask ourselves if it is worthwhile to adopt a culture where we compromise on the environment to enjoy a short-term convenience?

The Malaysia Consumers Movement (MCM) commends the federal government and some state governments for having in place policies to curb excessive usage of plastic bags. While the results are far from ideal, any start is a commendable move.

Currently the federal government has dedicated Saturdays as a no plastic day, while Penang has a complete no-plastic-bag policy which makes it compulsory for consumers to purchase one if they intend to use it. The Malacca state government has directed retailers to replace conventional plastic bags with biodegradable ones instead but without any additional charge. We also read of other state governments which are mulling a similar policy.

While the MCM welcomes this positive step, we urge the federal government to take the lead and ensure uniformity of policies nationwide. The primary objective of this initiative is to reduce plastic bags from going into the landfills. Substituting it with biodegradable bags like in Malacca, to a certain extent defeats its intended purpose.

The MCM therefore urges the federal government to:

1. Declare every day a no-plastic-bag day nationwide, working together in collaboration with state and local governments, as well as retailers. This will ensure uniformity of policy and its application, instilling confidence in businesses that the same set of rules apply for all. Penalty must be imposed on those who flaunt regulations.

2. Allow the public to purchase plastic bags, but set a timeframe to discontinue this practice. This will allow consumer time to prepare and adjust to this new way of shopping accordingly.

3. Work closely with all stakeholders on environmental protection educational programs, emphasising on anti-litter campaigns while encouraging consumers to opt for re-usable bags which are readily available at all retail outlets. Continuous education and awareness campaigns on the negative effects of littering will lead to a change in the public mindset and attitude towards waste issues.

On the other hand, the MCM urges all consumers to discharge our individual role and responsibility by embracing environmental friendly practices in our daily lives. If we change our attitude we will be able to witness tangible results. Protecting the environment is not solely the responsibility of the government and positive results can never be achieved if we do not work collaboratively.

While the MCM congratulates all those who opt for recyclable bags, unfortunately we see shoppers’ queue at retail outlets on Sunday is typically longer than Saturdays - as plastic bags are prohibited on this day, unless by sale. It is interesting how many of us perceive access to plastic bags as an inherent right.

Change must begin with us.

DARSHAN SINGH DHILLON is president, Malaysia Consumers Movement (MCM).

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