Upset Over Paying 20 sen, What Went Wrong With Selangor’s Campaign To Ban Plastic Bags (22.2.17)

Following the plastic-bag free Saturday campaign, the Selangor state government has decided to permanently charge customers 20 sen for plastic bags starting 1 January 2017.

The policy aimed at protecting the environment by discouraging the use of non-biodegradable plastic bags has been met with mixed reactions and feelings.

Selangor is the second state in Malaysia to take action against the use of environmentally unfriendly plastic bags.

Penang has already implemented anti-plastic bag policies since 2009, also charging customers 20 sen per plastic bag where the policy has generally been accepted by Penangites.

Indicating an increased awareness and willingness to protect the environment, the Perak and Johor have now also announced plans to ban the use of plastic bags starting from June 2017.

Even at the federal level, the Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism Ministry (KPDNKK) had launched a campaign to encourage retail outlets to take part in the effort to reduce the usage of plastic bags by participating in the ‘No plastic bag on Saturday’ campaign.

The general consent of the public and politicians across the board seems to be in favour of being more cautious about pollution, but the new plastic free campaign in Selangor has been heavily criticised for being inconsistent and unfair.

“Who Gets The 20 Sen?”

Selangor State Tourism, Environment, Green Technology and Consumer Affairs Committee Chairman Elizabeth Wong’s statement that consumers in Selangor will be charged 20 sen for plastic bags while the Selangor government will ban the use of plastic bags altogether confused many people.

She had also stated that the collected money should be used for environmental and wildlife protection and according to her policy officer, Adrian Yeo, this has already been agreed upon by hypermarkets and will be enforced.

“What is in place by the ministry, who had an understanding with hypermarkets, that the 20 sen collected have to be used for wildlife protection and conservation project,” he told a local online news portal.

He added that the state government assures that the new policy is well-advised and will benefit the environment, but the public seems to remain sceptical and have rather mixed feelings, Malaysiakini reports.

Many state and federal leaders had also weighed in on the issue, pointing out that the inconsistencies must be addressed.

Urban Wellbeing, Cooperatives and Consumerism Minister Tan Sri Noh Omar also pointed out the inconsistencies.

“They say people cannot use plastic bags but why they can sell (the plastic bags) then? Who gets the 20 sen? I’m wondering.

“If they want to enforce the ban on using plastic bags, then they don’t have to sell plastic bags…if they want to implement a law, do it properly, don’t cause problems to the people,” he told reporters earlier this month when the ban was implemented, Astro Awani reports.

Tan Sri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim, the previous MB of Selangor, also publicly questioned where those 20 sen are going and what they will be used for.

“I feel like the money is going to get lost in bureaucracy instead of being used to save the environment”.

Prof. Emeritus Dato’ Dr. Ibrahim Komoo, Head of Environment and Natural Resources Cluster of the National Council of Professors publicly highlighted that banning plastic bags and yet at the same time selling them seems counterproductive, a local news blog reported his comments.

“What really has to be done is completely stopping the sales of plastic bags and replacing them with paper bags,” he queried, if the state government intends to ban them, reports.

Is the new policy introduced by the state government of Selangor really flawed as it seems to many people or wasn’t it communicated effectively enough?

How Was It Implemented In Other States?

According to statistics provided by the President of the Malaysian Plastics Manufacturers Association (MPMA) Lim Kok Boon in an interview published by Market Watch in August 2012, when the ban was implemented every day in Penang state, sales of plastic shopping bags dropped 10 percent while sales of plastic garbage bags went up 15 percent.

By and large, media reports highlight that Penangites have generally adapted to the green ruling, which was first implemented by shopping complexes and hypermarkets and later expanded to cover other retailers and even hawkers.

The Star recently reported that according to the State Environment Committee chairman Phee Boon Poh, the state government of Penang had collected more than RM3mil from the 20 sen charge per plastic bag since 2009.

The money collected by the state then went to “Partners Against Poverty”, a special fund to help poor people.

If Penang residents are generally able to accept the push towards reducing plastic use, why has the Selangor state implementation gone awry?

The state of Malacca also instituted a total ban on a total ban on plastic bags made from petroleum by-products at all supermarkets and shopping malls from 1 January 2015 after introducing the ban starting with Fridays and Saturdays.

The programme has progressed smoothly since then in line with the state government’s efforts to reduce wastage moving towards a green technology state.

State Education, Higher Education, Science and Technology, Green Technology and Innovation chairman Datuk Md Yunos Husin said the planning prior to the implementation took two years with discussions with representatives from all malls and supermarkets before the implementation, The Star reports.

In contrast, the Selangor government’s move has been criticised as confusing and inconsistent, as well as being unfair for putting the burden exclusively on the customers. What went wrong?

What Do Ordinary Selangor Folk Think?

Filepic: lowyat.netFilepic:

Many detractors of the 20 sen charge for plastic bags have voiced out concerns that customers will be punished for forgetting to bring their own bags when shopping.

While a lot of noise has been made by politically affiliated stakeholders and social activists, what do ordinary Selangor folk affected by the 20 sen charge think.

Malaysian Digest talks to Selangor residents to find out what might have went wrong with charging 20 sen for plastic bag in the Selangor’s #BebasPlastik campaign.

Oo Kang Li, a 23 year old student from Kedah, for example thinks that the campaign will be a success.

“Of course it will encourage people not to use plastic bags and bring their own bags instead.

“Malaysia is not like other developed countries. This is a good step to further protect our environment,” he said.

Brandon Thong, 22, complained that the new policy is very inconvenient and counter-productive, because he now has to purchase plastic bags for his dust bin instead of just using the ones from shops.

“And the fact that only customers have to pay extra while shops are still allowed to sell overpriced plastic bags seems unfair,” he added.

Marika Regner, a 31-year-old expat from the Philippines, also criticised the implementation of the new policy.

“They say that plastic bags are banned, but you can still purchase them. The law is not enforced properly. In the Philippines people are not even allowed to bring plastic bags to shopping centres,” she explained.

Sharulniza S. who works for a consulting company, however, whole-heartedly supports the campaign.

“I think it’s a very good initiative, for environment & health, and it also encourage us to be more considerate towards the nature.”

In contrary to many people, she doesn’t perceive the new policy as inconvenient.

“It’s not like I carry everything to my car, we have trolleys for that.

“It is also good that the government doesn’t encourage paper bags as I don’t want Malaysia to start cutting down trees just so that we can carry our stuff.”

Shops Keep Track Of Sales Of Plastic Bags Like Any Other Regular Item

The question of who should bear the burden of causing less harm to the environment was brought up many times by NGOs pointing out that it should not fall solely on the consumers.

When asked about where the 20 sen charge will end up and what it will be used for, the KK Super Mart head office disclosed that the plastic bags are now sold like regular items.

The spokesperson told Malaysian Digest that the money would be keyed into the cash register at the point of purchase just like any other retail item. As the point-of-sales system will automatically itemise and track purchases, it is easy for large retailers and hypermarkets to keep track of the number of plastic bags purchased by customers.

The spokesperson said that all shops have to report to the government how many plastic bags they sold, but she cannot provide information about how much money is collected or where it is used.

A previous survey carried out by The Star indicated that retailers’ feedback to the response to the plastic bag ban is encouraging but there are no concrete statistics yet.

The daily reported that Tesco Malaysia states that customers responded favourably as the sales of plastic bags went down not only on Saturdays but eventually on other days as well.

However, the local English news daily also reported that all the stores they approached declined to share the numbers on the usage of plastic bags used and could not provide any specific studies to show if the usage had actually reduced.

As to how much retailers spend annually to provide single-use plastic bags to customers, we have to look at international sources.

According to online plastic bag wholesale sites, stores typically pay US$0.01 to 0.03 cents per plastic bag, reports. These costs translate to a few thousand (US) dollars annually and these costs are embedded in food prices that are then passed on to consumers.

“Too Little, Too Late, But Better Than Nothing”

In many countries the efforts to discourage the use of plastic bags have paid off.

“The number of single-use plastic bags used by shoppers in England has plummeted by more than 85% after the introduction of a 5p charge last October, early figures suggest.” The Guardian reported.

In central Europe plastic bags have already completely disappeared.

Plastic bag regulations worldwide as tracked by Earth Policy Institute Pic Earth Policy InstitutePlastic bag regulations worldwide as tracked by Earth Policy Institute Pic Earth Policy Institute

According to a statement by the environmental NGO Earth Policy Institute, a trillion single-use plastic bags are used worldwide annually which works out to nearly 2 million each minute. They also point out that governments worldwide are recognising the urgent need to start moving away from plastic bags.

“The oldest existing plastic bag tax is in Denmark, passed in 1993. Danes use very few light-weight single-use plastic bags: about 4 per person each year.

“Many European countries tax plastic bags or ban free distribution. The EU Parliament is discussing measures that could require member states to cut plastic bag use by 80 percent by 2019,” the statement notes.

In Germany, plastic bags have also already been replaced by environmentally friendly multi-use carry bags and paper-based bags said Mark Hauckensteiner, a tourist from Berlin.

When asked about his opinion on the plastic free campaigns in Malaysia, he remarked that its “too little, too late, but better than nothing.”

The criticism levelled at the Selangor government’s #BebasPlastik (Plastic Free) campaign could be a kneejerk reaction over a move that is highly commendable but perhaps, lacked proper implementation in administering the funds collected efficiently and in a transparent manner to assure consumers that they are not being exploited by traders.

As highlighted by another expatriate, Selangor residents might also not have been sufficiently prepared in the initial stages of the campaign to understand and embrace the lifestyle changes required.

A 24-year-old expat from Austria, Adrian Sasgary, commended the efforts of the Selangor state government to protect the environment and said that people should be patient and understand that Malaysia cannot be compared to developed countries.

“In Austria we already replaced the old plastic bags with new biodegradable bioplastics, but the 20 sen charge in Selangor is a good start change the people’s habits,” he said.


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