I REFER to the letter “Malaysia needs to upgrade to 5R” (The Star, April 23) on the grim situation of plastic pollution.
It has been 10 years or more since we launched the “No Free Plastic Bags Day” in supermarkets but the behaviour of Malaysians has yet to change for the better.
I hardly see anyone carrying their own shopping bags when I go to the supermarket, fish market and night market. I seem to be the odd one out at the fish market, carrying old newspapers and a shopping bag for my purchases.
At supermarkets, the cashiers are ever so eager to give away plastic bags, with some saying, “Aunty, you don’t have to pay for this!”
Just last week, I was ticked off by a couple in front of me at the check-out counter who were asking the cashier for a plastic bag. When I suggested to them in a friendly way to bring their own bag next time, they weren’t pleased. They said the environment cannot be saved just by not using plastic bags and that if the problem of plastic pollution is so bad, the government should stop production of plastic materials.
This just shows that after all these years, the objectives of the “No Plastic Bag Day” campaign have either not been understood or the information has not been passed on effectively to the supermarket workers and the public.
But perhaps it could also be due to the uncaring attitude of our people who just want to have things easy and leave the burden of managing plastic waste to others.
I have also seen workers at supermarkets, shops and stalls happily stuffing customers’ purchases into the so-called biodegradeable plastic bags. As stated by the writer in the letter above, these bags do not totally disintegrate into safe components, and they also take a long time to decompose.
I purposely chucked a few of these bags in my garden and after nearly two years, they are just partially disintegrated. So, as long as people do not dispose of them properly, they will be adding to the volume of plastic pollution.
The idea of imposing sin tax on plastic, “Imposing sin tax on plastic might be the best bet” (The Star, April 25), may indeed be a good move for our next government to endorse. But to implement this successfully, it is necessary to ensure that plastic bags are not smuggled in from neighbouring countries.
Educating our public, be they the producers or consumers, is still the main means to change our attitude on plastic usage, however.
On March 29, together with the World Youth Foundation, eight teachers and 80 students from the nature clubs of four schools in Melaka and the Malaysian Nature Society Negri Sembilan/Melaka branch carried out a beach clean-up activity in line with Sustainable Development Goal number 14, “Life Below Water”. On that hot morning, we collected 41 bags of rubbish at Padang Kemunting, Alor Gajah in less than two hours. Most of the waste we collected were plastic and we were able to segregate them into 16 bags of recyclable plastic that were later collected by a company that deals with waste separation and recycling.
Doing regular beach clean-ups with schoolchildren and the local community is an effective way to not only educate the masses about pollution but also to prevent plastic waste from entering our seas and oceans.
However, cleaning up beaches does not appeal to our local communities so their participation is usually poor. Perhaps some of our celebrities could make beach clean-ups their civic mission and entice their fans to participate. We might be able to garner better response from the locals in this way.
I can’t help thinking that we could now be a cleaner nation with citizens who care about their environment if Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad had incorporated Japan’s education system into the Look East Policy he adopted decades ago.
In Japan, children have been cleaning their own schools for a long time. Hopefully, we will soon see our young ones doing the same thing as their Japanese counterparts.
Let the children learn to clean their classrooms, corridors, compounds and toilets. This will not only instil responsibility and team spirit among them but also inculcate love for the environment which depends heavily on adopting clean and green practices.
In this respect, the Education Ministry should not give in to the demands of parents who are against having their children clean up their school. Incidentally, I do hope tahfiz schools can implement these practices as they are in line with Islamic teachings.
And after the fever of the 14th General Election has died down, I hope all the plastic materials used, or should I say abused, for campaigning would be sorted out for recycling.
I would also urge the next government to ban the use of plastic during elections in future, as has already been successfully carried out by governments of developed countries.