While the awareness on ‘say no to plastic bags’ are on the rise, there is still so much to be done. Every year, an estimated 4 billion plastic bags end up as litter in worldwide. These plastic bags are not biodegradable and therefore, they will remain for up to 1000 years before it could be properly decomposed.
One can easily find in any supermarkets and shopping malls reusable bags to replace plastic bags. In one shopping mall, one can expect to pay for the plastic bags they need to put their purchased items. This is done to save on plastic bags and encourage consumers to bring their own reusable bags. I don’t see much complaint on this implementation if everyone cooperates. I remember that when I was young, open burning is a normal practice in the neighbourhood in the evenings to repel the mosquitoes without knowing the consequences and it is harmful to the environment. Today, the awareness to love the environment increases among the younger generation but to older generation, there is still the perception that nothing is wrong with open burning and that that little burning would not do much harm to the environment.
In Malaysia, no laws are yet to be imposed on those who abuse the usage of plastic bags. On the other hand, no rewards are given to those who use reusable bags instead of plastic bags. Malaysians have the tendency to use plastic bags as garbage bags to dispose their rubbish. There was once where I saw a lady using her reusable bag to store her groceries but during check out at the counter, she took a handful of plastic bags and put it in her reusable bag. She then said, “This is perfect to contain my rubbish at home. I am running out of plastic bags”. This makes me wonder on how successful is the 3R (Reduce, Reuse and Recycling) campaign. The people are not being properly educated on the meaning of reducing usage on plastic bags and the implication of it. The people just grab the plastic bags at their convenience since it is so light and easy to store.
Maybe the time has come for the government to impose some rules to consumers and it could start from supermarket where plastic bags are most used in Malaysia. In Ireland, the Irish government passed a plastic bag tax in year 2002 and it was followed by some advertising awareness campaign. Within weeks, it showed results of 94 percent drop in plastic bag use and within a year, almost everyone bought reusable bags and brought them to buy groceries. A plastic bag in Ireland costs 22 euro cents (RM1.00) and Irish rarely buy plastic bags. Maybe the government should start considering imposing plastic bag tax in the near future, thus reducing pollution to earth in mind.
Having said that, there are still many people out there who are not aware of the types of waste they generate in their home that can cause tremendous haze to the environment. With the hectic lifestyle in urban areas, there is reduction in organic and kitchen waste but increase in mixed plastics and paper waste due to the packaging materials. City folks are too busy to cook; hence, the easy way out is to buy packed food or takeaway. The packaging for packed food and take away generates a lot of plastics and paper waste. With the amount of plastic bags generated, it could fill one’s home in no time. An average Malaysian generates about 1kg per day of solid waste. This mountain of solid waste, in time to come, will be a great disposal problem. The only way out is for city folks to change their lifestyle and eat in more often rather than eat out. They could also use their own tupperware to store food rather than using plastic bags.
With the ongoing campaigns in shopping malls and some NGOs as well as the government, I hope that the rakyat could be more aware of their litters and the amount of plastic bags they produce each day and make a difference to it by reducing or saying no to plastic bags.