Its time to get serious about singleuse plastics

first_img Japan 12 Jul 2019 Nine deer die after eating plastic bags at famed park in Japan {{category}} {{time}} {{title}} THE plastic straw “ban” has been in effect in Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya and Labuan since Jan 1, and in Selangor since July 1, but apart from signs in eateries stating that straws are only available upon request, there has been no marked decline in the number of straws used and disposed of. In many eateries, straws are given by default. When I asked the staff why, the response was that customers often scolded them and insisted on having straws. So, inserting straws by default would save them the additional trip to and from the drinks counter.This clearly shows that the straw ban is merely an advisory and would have no actual impact on reducing plastic production, consumption or waste in Malaysia. It also looks like it’s just a publicity exercise by government agencies to create the impression that they are doing something about the issue of plastic waste. There is no binding force to this advisory, no enforcement of the restriction on use of plastic straws, and no penalties or charges for those who continue to use them. Related News Nation 29 May 2019 CAP: Ban all plastic waste importscenter_img Related News The ban neither reduces the demand for plastic straws nor increases the push for reusable alternatives such as steel or bamboo or compostable plant-based or paper straws. This is because no alternatives are offered and no fee is charged for those who insist on being given plastic straws. The risible advisory is also ineffective because plastic straws, as well as other single-use disposable plastic and polystyrene products, are still available for sale in retail outlets and supermarkets. Furthermore, the ban does not extend to hawker stalls, catering services or even beverage shops such as bubble tea shops. A March 2019 survey by YouGov Omnibus reports that although 91% of Malaysians expressed the opi­nion that environmental conservation is important, 22% admitted to using plastic straws and 24% to using plastic bags daily. From the survey, it is also clear that although the participants were aware of the need to reduce the use of single-use items such as plastic bags and straws, 44% believed that the onus is not on them but on the government to protect the environment. This survey, as well as findings from outreach work done by va­­rious environmental NGOs in Malaysia, reveals that there is no lack of environmental awareness in Malaysia, only lack of a sense of responsibility. Knowing this to be the predominant mindset among Malaysians, the government’s half-hearted attempt to limit the use of plastic straws is doomed to fail. However, recalcitrant and apathetic consumers are not even the main reason for the doomed “no plastic straw” campaign. Like the one against the free distribution of plastic bags, it is and will remain ineffective because the focus is almost entirely on consumers and end users. The onus is on consu­mers to give up straws and single-­use plastic and find their own alternatives. Compliance is higher among urban and educated populations, but for lower income indivi­duals, any charge or ban on plastic bags and straws is only seen as another burden. In the battle against plastic waste, the government’s focus needs to shift from the end users to produ­cers and businesses. There is currently insufficient pressure on plastics manufacturers to declare their plastic use, set plastic reduction targets, and redesign products and packaging to use less plastic. The existing government campaigns have no effect on the production levels or profits of plastics manufacturers. They love these types of “awareness” and “voluntary reduction” campaigns because there is no obligation on them to reduce production. If a campaign or initiative fails, they can blame consumers for failing to comply with advisories, littering, being ignorant or recalcitrant, and for not recycling enough. Plastics manufacturers also love initiatives such as beach clean-ups and recycling drives because it creates the impression that they are doing something to address the issue of plastic waste without actual­ly reducing production or changing the way they do business. More and more resources will then be poured into awareness and education campaigns and recycling drives in schools, when the crux of the problem is that our planet cannot cope with the amount of plastic already in the biosphere plus those that will continue to be produced. The World Economic Forum re­­ports that we use 20 times as much plastic as we did 50 years ago, and this will continue to rise with higher incomes and industrialisation. Worldwide, plastic production and use is growing at a 10% rate, but in the developing world and most Asian countries, it is growing much faster than that. This is more than the existing waste management infrastructure can handle, leading to over nine million tonnes of plastic being dumped into the oceans each year. What the plastics industry does not want us to know is that recycling is not the solution. Most single-­use plastic products are never designed to be recycled; they are designed for low cost, light weight and convenience. As a result, even the best global efforts can only achieve a 10% to 20% recycling rate. Even when collected and separated for recycling, the low grade and low recyclability of these single-use plastic items means that they will be landfilled and burnt. Existing recycling technology isn’t good enough largely because of limitations in how plastic can be sorted by chemical composition and cleaned of additives. Most plastic materials that are recycled are shredded and reprocessed into lower-value products such as polyester carpet fibre. Only 2% are recycled into products of the same quality. As long as decision-makers keep the focus on consumer behaviour, plastics manufacturers can continue to flood the market with low-grade, non-recyclable plastic packaging and products. The Pakatan Harapan government began their term saying the right things and showing determination to end the scourge of plastic waste in Malaysia. Yet, despite many promising announcements, there has been no concrete and measurable action taken to reduce plastic production and waste, apart from more “awareness” campaigns. For awareness and educational campaigns to work, there must be a corresponding ban on the production, import, sale and use of single-­use plastic packaging, a higher focus on and incentive for switching to reusable and compostable alternatives, and setting of reduction targets for manufacturers and businesses. Science journal reported in 2015 that Malaysia is among the top eight highest offending ocean plastic polluters globally. Malaysia signed the December 2017 UN resolution on microplastics and marine litter, but it has not really treated the issue with urgency or done anything with measurable outcomes to date. Consumer awareness campaigns and “request a straw only if you really need one” advisories are not measurable because no targets can be set or measured for such campaigns. Holding X number of roadshows and issuing X number of public service announcements cannot be translated into X tonnes of plastic waste reduced. One of the most effective ways to bring about an actual and measurable reduction in plastic waste within a definite timeline is to get manu­facturers and businesses to set and meet reduction targets. Due to consumer and investor demands, many companies are under pressure to disclose their annual plastic packaging use, set reduction goals, and transition to recyclable, reusable or compostable packaging and products. However, companies should not just be focusing on facilitating and encouraging recycling but also on reducing the amount of plastic used, and designing their products and packaging out of recycled plastic or compostable materials. This is the kind of measurable reduction target we want to see in this country. Malaysia cannot achieve pollution and waste reduction targets by waiting for consumers to do the right thing while protecting manufacturers and the plastics industry. Karnataka state in India has banned several types of single-use plastic items and manufacturers from producing these products. Kenya has implemented a nationwide ban on plastic bags, which also covers distributors and produ­cers. Vanuatu has outlawed plastic bags and many single-use plastic items, and is moving towards banning disposable diapers. Malaysia must move beyond advising customers to ask the waiter or go to the counter if they need a straw, and calling this measure a ban.WONG EE LYNNPetaling Jaya World 13 Jun 2019 G20 to tackle ocean plastic waste as petrochemical producers expand in Asialast_img

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