PETALING JAYA: Only a small segment of the community is taking steps to reduce plastic usage, more than a decade after official discouragement on the use of single-use plastics was sparked, say NGOs and associations.
Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) president Prof Dr Ahmad Ismail said reducing the use of plastic straws and bags is not yet a habit among Malaysians.
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“If you sit for one hour at a restaurant, you will see a lot of people still using straws. Some restaurants put the straws at the counter for the customer to decide whether to use a straw – and the customer will still opt for one,” he said.
Even though plastic usage increased during the pandemic, Ahmad noted that Malaysians still need to be aggressively educated on the effects of plastics to the environment.
“We saw more plastic usage from online shopping and food containers, and in the process of avoiding contact (during the pandemic), we used a lot of plastics from gloves and containers.
“It is a part of life, so we need to increase public awareness because for now, we can see that people are still using single-use plastics. If we still pollute the environment with plastics, it means that we are not aware,” he said.
According to him, plastic is a dangerous component as micro plastics can be carried by marine life. These plastics return to us in the form of food.
“Micro plastics have been reported in the human lungs, blood and faeces. This needs to be understood by all and together, we need to manage plastic pollution or avoid using plastics,” he said.
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Sahabat Alam Malaysia’s Mageswari Sangaralingam seconded the opinion.
Behavioral change, she said, is not widespread enough as disposables are still widely used in the food sector and wet markets.
“There needs to be a clear phaseout and ban of non-essential single-use plastics and sachets.
“These can be replaced with alternative delivery systems. We also need policies to ensure corporations take responsibility for their products and packaging,” she said.
Mageswari urged the government to enforce the mandatory waste separation law to reduce mixing and contamination of plastic waste.
“Plastic pollution is of serious concern. We need to take action to protect ourselves, our families, our communities and the planet from plastic pollution,” he said.
Restaurant and Bistro Owners Association vice-president Jeremy Lim said there is a small but growing population of consumers bringing their own bags and containers for takeaway.
“There are no issues for restaurants complying with the single-use plastic bans.
“Majority of the businesses have reverted to alternatives (paper, bamboo or steel straws), but there may be a population of consumers that still requires straws – kids, elderly or those with special needs,” he said.
“So far, we only issue these alternative straws upon requests. Plastic bags have generally been replaced by paper bags.
“We also noticed a small population of consumers in urban market centers that have been using their containers and their own carry bags,” he added.
Lim said that consumption of plastic packaging increased during the lockdown period, where almost 100% of orders were meant for delivery and they couldn’t source for alternative carry cases as shops were closed.