Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Letter to the Editor: Our Shared Duty To Prevent Wildlife Deaths

LETTER TO THE EDITOR
OUR SHARED DUTY TO PREVENT WILDLIFE DEATHS
 
 
 
The demise of Puntung, one of the last three remaining Sumatran rhinoceroses (June 4), united the nation in our grief. Just weeks later, the tragic and avoidable death of a baby elephant by a speeding vehicle on the Gerik-Jeli Highway (June 19) left both the public and the conservation community dismayed and horrified. Photos that surfaced on social media in the same month (June 5) of the hunting and killing of protected and endangered species including the Malayan sun bear, ostensibly by indigenous hunters, are a further indication of the grave threats faced by Malaysian wildlife. It looks as though the future for wildlife in Malaysia is very bleak indeed, and that extinction is a certainty for many species.
 
Human behavioural change is essential to stopping wildlife trade and preventing extinction. As a direct result of poaching and habitat loss, there are only 2 Sumatran rhinoceros left in Malaysia following Puntung’s death. In order for anti-poaching and anti-wildlife trafficking laws to succeed, there must be public education and awareness efforts to encourage and reward wildlife crime reporting, eradicate bribery and corruption, and discourage the hunting, trafficking, sale, and consumption of wildlife. The power of social media must be harnessed to expose, report, identify and prosecute wildlife offenders, and to educate society that traditional medicine relying on wildlife parts such as rhinoceros horn and pangolin scales are a fraud and harmful both to wildlife populations and human safety and health. Whether or not we are in the medical or conservation communities, we must make it clear to everyone including other social media users, indigenous communities and the older generation who make up the majority of traditional Chinese medicine consumers that there are no benefits to consuming wildlife parts, and there is no such thing as legal or sustainable trade in wildlife.    
 
The hunting of wildlife by indigenous communities is a sensitive issue, and prosecuting indigenous hunters may be viewed as an oppressive act that impinges on indigenous rights. However, it cannot be denied that many indigenous hunters capture or kill wildlife for commercial gain, and the absence of arrests and prosecution will only embolden poachers and hunters to act with impunity. Some of the hunters may already be aware that the hunting and death rates have already exceeded the natural reproduction and growth rates of certain species, yet yield to the temptation of making a quick gain. We cannot ignore the human factor in wildlife protection, and as such, must participate in and contribute to efforts and initiatives to empower and provide alternative and sustainable livelihoods for rural and indigenous communities to reduce and eventually eliminate their need for poaching and hunting.
 
Environmentalists have consistently objected to the construction of new highways through forests and wildlife habitats, knowing the adverse ecological effects. In situations where such infrastructure already exists, there must be systems put in place to mitigate harm to natural areas and wildlife.
Whenever wildlife deaths by traffic occur, the public is quick to demand high-tech, high-cost solutions such as more wildlife viaducts and underpasses. Wildlife viaducts, corridors, culverts and underpasses, although expensive and time-consuming to construct, are without doubt the best ways to reduce wildlife deaths and alleviate the effects of habitat fragmentation. However, human behavioural change is a critical component of wildlife protection. Not all wildlife will use viaducts without fail, and until more viaducts are constructed, many more animals will succumb to wildlife-vehicle collisions. Some lower cost techniques and approaches to encourage driver behavioural change can include:

• Increasing public education to inculcate fauna- and bird-friendly driving attitudes and improve driver safety;
• Improving signage and lighting in areas with wildlife sightings;
• Introducing signage requiring drivers to honk near wildlife habitats to warn animals;
• Reducing or blocking off roadside food and water sources (e.g. grassy verges, fruiting trees, streams) to discourage wildlife from venturing to roadside areas for food and water;
• Installing light reflectors to intensify light from oncoming vehicles in order to scare or warn wildlife of approaching vehicles;
• Installing speed bumps to slow down traffic near wildlife habitats;
• Introducing light-coloured road surfaces to increase visibility and discourage wildlife from loitering and resting on roads;
• Installing devices that will detect wildlife or oncoming vehicles and emit warning sirens to alert both driver and wildlife;
• Developing and utilising mobile apps that work together with apps such as Waze and Google Maps to warn drivers of the presence of wildlife; and
• Installing speed cameras and enforcing speed limits in wildlife-rich areas.
 
The existence of wildlife protection laws alone will not ensure the survival of wildlife. It is incumbent upon all of us to take steps and modify our attitudes and behaviour to reduce wildlife deaths, failing which we will have to bear the detrimental environmental, economic and social consequences of an ecologically imbalanced and impoverished world.

WONG EE LYNN
COORDINATOR,
GREEN LIVING SPECIAL INTEREST GROUP,
MALAYSIAN NATURE SOCIETY

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Hive Bulk Foods Shop Visit and Other Zero Waste Tips


PENCINTA ALAM JUNE 2017
GREEN LIVING COLUMN
THE HIVE BULK FOODS SHOP VISIT AND OTHER ZERO-WASTE TIPS
By Wong Ee Lynn
(wongeelynn@yahoo.com / gl.mnselangor@yahoo.com)

 

Hidden away in a tidy and welcoming house in Jalan Telawi 9, Bangsar, is The Hive Bulk Foods, a cooperative that works with local organic farmers and the Orang Asli community. It offers organic groceries, packaging-free grains, cereals and seeds in bulk (customers bring their own jars and containers) and sustainable, low-waste products including personal care products and household cleaning products.

 

Set up by zero-waste blogger and activist Claire Sancelot, The Hive Bulk Foods carries items that are not easily available in Malaysia such as shampoo bars (do away with the plastic pump bottles and extra fuel miles needed to transport them!), compostable bamboo toothbrushes (since conventional plastic toothbrushes are NOT recyclable and should not be put into the recycling bins!), washable and reusable sanitary pads, reusable stainless steel straws and travel-sized cutleries to replace disposable utensils.

 

From the food section, customers are able to purchase packaging-free spices, dehydrated fruits, nuts, cereal, granola, rice, cacao nibs, coffee grounds, rolled oats, grains, herbal teas, Himalayan salt, and many varieties of organic flour, among others.

 

Shops such as The Hive Bulk Foods offer consumers more sustainable options to conventional groceries and goods. From a social justice point of view, The Hive empowers local organic farmers and producers, including the Orang Asli communities, and contributes to the local economy while cutting down on the fuel miles of transporting organic products from distant places.

 

Some of the products may appear expensive. However, one must take into account the fact that conventional goods and industries are often heavily subsidized and therefore cheaper, and consumers do not have to bear the cradle-to-grave costs of producing, using and disposing of conventional products such as plastic bags and disposable diapers.

 

If the public had to pay for the cost of cleaning up waterways, reforesting degraded land, rehabilitating wildlife and building and maintaining landfills, people would change their minds very quickly about going for the more convenient but more damaging options! Also, in the long run, reusable items such as tiffin carriers, handkerchiefs, cloth kitchen towels, cloth diapers and reusable cloth sanitary pads will serve you better than single-use products and save you money.

 

The Hive Bulk Foods’ official website is www.thehivebulkfoods.com and their Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/thehivebulkfoods/.

 

The shop is located at 16, Telawi 9, Bangsar and is open from 9.00 a.m. to 6.00 p.m. from Mondays to Saturdays. They are closed on Sundays.

 

Here are ways we can all make zero-waste adjustments to our lives whether or not we live near a cool cooperative like The Hive Bulk Foods:

1.      Determine what it is that you are disposing the most of. Those items should be your priority. Therefore, you should be more concerned over the plastic-and-foil coffee pods and disposable diapers that you discard daily, than about purchasing a bamboo bicycle, organic cotton bedsheets, or item of furniture that is used for decades.

 

2.      Replace these items that you most frequently dispose of with the washable and reusable alternatives. To make the habit of using washable and reusable items work for you, you may find that you will need to purchase or make enough of the reusable item, and keep enough of it in places where they are most needed. Therefore, keep plenty of kitchen rags and towels in the kitchen, and have enough handkerchiefs, cloth sanitary pads and cloth diapers to last you at least a week. These items do not take up much space in the washing machine or washbasin and soon become just as convenient as using disposables, once you get in the habit of using them daily. Besides, tissue paper, wet wipes, paper towels, disposable diapers and disposable sanitary pads all require a lot of water, resources and fuel to produce, package and transport to you and deal with once they are disposed of. Having to wash reusable items is therefore still less wasteful and damaging to the environment than using disposable items.

 

3.      Replace 3-in-1 beverage mixes (generally, coffee, tea and breakfast beverages) with loose tea leaves, herbal tea mixes or coffee grounds, preferably organic and fairtrade / UTZ-certified. Those plastic-and-foil sachets that beverage mixes come in cannot be recycled and very soon adds up. Get in the habit of making and mixing your own drinks instead of relying on the convenient but unhealthy, wasteful and environmentally-damaging habit of buying pre-mixed drinks in plastic sachets.

 

4.      If you are using contact lenses, consider switching to glasses or opting for corrective eye surgery. Using contact lenses requires you to purchase lenses, cleaning solutions and disinfectants that come in a lot of packaging.

 

5.      If there are no packaging-free shopping options where you live, buy items that you use the most of in bulk and in the largest size packaging available. Opt for packaging that is recyclable or reusable, for example, pet food in large lidded pails that can be used for other purposes, or laundry detergent powder in large buckets that can be refilled with loose soap powder in refill packs.

 

6.      Bring your reusable shopping bags, handkerchief, beverage bottle and food container with you whenever you leave the house. Keep a few extras in your bag or car just in case.

 

7.      If you are in the habit of using disposable wet wipes, consider making your own reusable ones here: http://mnsgreenliving.blogspot.my/2015/06/greener-alternatives-to-wet-wipes.html

 

8.      Opt to dine in rather than take away your food to reduce packaging. When purchasing drinks in paper or plastic cups, request for ‘no lid and no straw’ to cut down on plastic waste.

 

9.      Store food in lidded jars and containers, rather than use clingfilm and kitchen foil. Some websites recommend beeswax cloth reusable ‘clingwrap’ and cloth snack bags. Do go with the option that is the most convenient and practical for you. It would also make sense for you to use the containers and empty jars that you already have, rather than buy something new.

 

10.  In the bathroom, use a face flannel rather than makeup remover wipes and cotton balls, and exfoliate yourself with a pumice stone or salt or sugar scrub instead of commercial cleansers containing microbeads.

 


 

 

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Activity Report: Earth Day at the MNS UCF

PENCINTA ALAM JUNE 2017
GREEN LIVING SIG ACTIVITY REPORT
EARTH DAY AT THE MNS UCF
By Wong Ee Lynn
 
The gloomy drizzle that we woke up to on the morning of Earth Day (22nd April 2017) failed to deter close to 40 dedicated volunteers from showing up at the Malaysian Nature Society Urban Community Forest (UCF) to assist in the trail and nursery cleanup organised by Green Living SIG.
 

 
 
Volunteers consisting of MNS members, members of the public, members of expat community InterNations and staff of biodegradable medical examination glove manufacturer Cranberry (M) Sdn Bhd worked together to clean up the UCF / Federal Hill trail and nursery, the UCF stream and the areas surrounding the MNS headquarters’ entrance. This completed, they also mulched the UCF compost pile and weeded the nursery and vegetable patch.
 


 
 
 
A refreshment break was provided once these tasks have been completed, and each volunteer was given a reusable cloth tote bag as a token of appreciation. The generous volunteers also brought electronic waste for recycling and pre-loved clothes, toys and books for Green Living’s ongoing projects with other organisations assisting the homeless and urban poor communities in Kuala Lumpur. Several kind volunteers also helped to sort through and pack the donations for easy transportation, while others contributed refreshments.
 

 
 
A Photo Scavenger Hunt was held to end the event on a high note. Volunteers were given a list of items to look for and photograph, including something that propagates through spores, an edible plant, something that has no use in nature (clue: it’s manmade!), and a ‘wefie’ with another volunteer that they have not met prior to this event.
 
Prizes were given out to the winners and volunteers were duly thanked for their contributions. Green Living would like to thank all the volunteers who participated and we hope to see you at future events.
  

Monday, April 10, 2017

Eco Kids Column May 2017: 20 Ways To Help Wildlife


PENCINTA ALAM MAY 2017
ECO KIDS COLUMN
20 WAYS TO HELP WILDLIFE
By Wong Ee Lynn
 
Much as we would like to be, not every one of us are, or will someday be, wildlife biologists or working in the conservation and animal protection sector. However, there are many things we can do in our daily lives to assist and protect wildlife. These actions go beyond merely recycling empty containers and ‘liking’ posts on Facebook. Some may take you some time to implement or get used to. Hopefully, you are already doing many of the things on this list, but if you aren’t yet, choose at least one or two to try today!
 

1.      Bring rubbish sacks, gardening gloves and/or rubbish tongs/claws with you whenever you go out. Pick up litter whenever you are able, especially in natural spaces such as jungle trails and beaches. Each piece of litter removed from a natural ecosystem helps wildlife and creates better places for humans.
 
2.      Buy or make your own biodegradable and non-toxic cleaning products, such as laundry detergent, shampoo and dishwashing liquid. Chemicals in conventional detergents and cleaning products flow into drains, streams and rivers and often harm or kill wildlife. Do not use bleach as it is very toxic and even small quantities can kill pets, birds, frogs, earthworms, insects and other animals.
 
 
3.      Avoid using glue traps, sticky fly paper, rat traps and similar ‘pest control’ methods and devices. Birds, bats, squirrels and other small animals often get trapped in these cruel traps and suffocate and die. The best pest control method is prevention: store food in covered containers or screened and ventilated food cabinets, put waste in covered waste bins, keep your surroundings clean, keep drains and ditches clear and unblocked, and install window and door screens to keep insects out. If you find small animals or birds trapped in glue, clean them gently with vegetable or mineral oil and gently rub the glue off. Wash them clean with shampoo and water until there are no traces of glue or oil left. Let them recover and dry off before you see if they can be safely released. If you are unsure of your abilities, or if the animal or bird looks injured, consult a vet. If you live in Kuala Lumpur or Selangor, you can also contact Dr. Jalila Abu of the Avian Vet Unit of UPM at 03 8946 8340.
 
4.      Buy local, organic and seasonal produce as often as you can, and eat vegetarian or vegan whenever possible, if you aren’t already vegetarian / vegan. Local and seasonal produce uses less fuel to produce and transport and therefore generates less carbon dioxide. Organic produce does not use chemical pesticides and herbicides that kill insects, birds and wildlife. Livestock and poultry farming uses a lot of land and resources, thus depriving wildlife of their habitat and food and water sources.
 
5.      Create small-scale wildlife habitats. Even in an apartment balcony, you can grow fruiting or flowering native plants that can provide food for native birds and insects. Grow pollinator-friendly plants that attract bees and butterflies, and have a compost pit or bin where bugs and earthworms are welcome to stay.
 
6.      If you live in landed property, ensure your gates and fences do not have barbed wire or broken glass tops that will cut and hurt wildlife such as squirrels, tree shrews and common palm civets. Create sufficient space to allow small animals to climb over or pass through your fence and gate safely.
 
7.      If you have pet cats or dogs, neuter and vaccinate them and keep them indoors or at least within your compound. If they do go out to play, put a safety collar with a bell on them, so that birds and small animals will be warned of your pets’ approach. Do not allow your pets to chase or catch birds, reptiles and other small animals.
 
8.      Put up a microhabitat. Bird nesting boxes, bat boxes and bird baths all can provide safe spaces for wildlife, especially during harsh weather.
 
9.      Inspire someone else to go outdoors. What is your favourite nature spot? Whether it is a hiking trail like the one in Bukit Gasing Educational Forest, or the mangroves of Kuala Selangor, offer to show someone else this spot and teach them about its importance as a wildlife habitat. People care more about things and places they have first-hand experience with.
 
10.  Join an environmental organisation such as MNS, Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers (MYCAT), or the Turtle Conservation Society of Malaysia (TCSM) and volunteer with them. Even without a background in conservation and wildlife protection, you can help man their awareness and education booths, raise funds, share posts on social media, collect signatures for petitions, attend and assist at their events and talks, and participate in short volunteer stints.
 
11.  Donate your old wildlife and conservation magazines, such as the Malaysian Naturalist, to community libraries, clinic waiting rooms and barbers and hairdressers to get other people interested in nature and wildlife.
 
12.  Contact your local MP, State Assemblyman and local councillor about wildlife issues in your area. For example, if people are feeding and poisoning macaques or trapping birds, or if palm civets and snakes are being killed by speeding vehicles, write in to your elected representative to propose solutions. These individuals are elected to serve the people, and you have the right to voice your concerns.
 
13.  Investigate your local wild patch. If there is a patch of wild land in your neighbourhood, find out more about it. Explore it safely in a group and record any bird and wildlife sightings you see. Inform the local chapters of any environmental groups and the residents’ association to try to protect the area. Report any wildlife crimes you see (e.g. mist nets to catch birds, or traps and snares to catch monkeys and wild boars) to the MYCAT Wildlife Crime Hotline at 0193564194 or to the state office of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (Perhilitan).
 
14.  Never purchase products made from threatened or endangered species. Avoid supporting the market in illegal wildlife trade. Boycott all traditional medicine made of wildlife parts, tortoise or turtle shell products, ivory, fur products, butterflies and beetles preserved in plastic or resin, and products made from the skin of snakes and other reptiles.
 
15.  Buy sustainable forest products. Choose bamboo or rattan furniture, and products certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. Avoid furniture made from wood from rainforests. Minimise your use of palm oil (found in most processed food products, snacks, soap and shampoo) as rainforests including those in Malaysia are destroyed to make way for oil palm plantations.
 
16.  Use your mobile phones for as long as possible, and recycle them once they can no longer be repaired and reused. Mobile phones contain coltan, a mineral extracted from mines in the deep forests of Congo, in central Africa, which is home to the world’s endangered lowland gorillas. The boom in the worldwide demand for mobile phones has led to the destruction of gorilla habitats and the rampant slaughter of gorillas for the illegal bushmeat trade.
 
17.  Slow down when driving. If someone else is doing the driving, advise them politely to slow down and keep an eye out for wildlife. If you are the passenger, stay alert for wildlife that may be crossing the road or birds that may be flying low. Many animals live in developed areas and this means they must navigate a landscape full of human hazards.
 
18.  Do not purchase exotic pets. Sugar gliders, slow lorises, marmosets, monkeys, parrots and other wildlife belong in the wild with their families and in their habitats. If you love them, protect their habitats. Keeping them in captivity will not keep their species safe and will only cause them stress and anguish. There are thousands of domestic animals -- chiefly dogs, cats and rabbits that have been selectively bred for centuries to live with humans and to depend on humans -- looking for good homes in animal shelters and pounds. Please consider giving them a chance of living a good life with you instead.
 
19.  Do not visit circuses, travelling zoos, petting zoos and uncertified private zoos. Keeping wildlife in captivity is neither kind nor educational. Many of these animals are caught by poachers and hunters, usually by killing the mother animal and taking the baby away. The money you pay to visit these facilities will not be used to keep the animals fed and healthy. Instead, it will usually be used to buy more animals to be used as ‘attractions’ to keep visitors coming.
 
20.  Make your home wildlife-friendly and wildlife-safe. Avoid using pesticides, herbicides, glue traps, rat poison or bleach. Put stickers or decals on windows if you find that birds keep flying into them. Keep a lid on your waste bin to stop animals from raiding your rubbish. Wash jars and containers and put the lids back on before you put them in the recycling bin or bag. Clean out the insides of cans and use a hammer to flatten the openings of cans to stop small animals from getting trapped inside or getting cut by the sharp edges of cans. Dispose of needles, pins and razor blades by wrapping them in masking tape and labelling them clearly as sharp objects. Recycle electronic waste and batteries. Avoid accepting and using plastic bags, plastic drinking straws, and polystyrene packaging. These are small actions that take getting used to, but will go a long way in preventing the unnecessary deaths of wildlife and even stray animals.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Letter to the Editor: Protect Ulu Muda from Logging

LETTER TO THE EDITOR
PROTECT ULU MUDA FROM LOGGING
 
The report of continued logging activities in the Ulu Muda forest complex (The Star, 9 March 2017) is a cause for alarm. The Green Living Special Interest Group of the Malaysian Nature Society supports the call of Sahabat Alam Malaysia and the Penang Water Supply Corporation to terminate all logging and quarrying activities in the Ulu Muda forest complex immediately.
The 160,000-hectare forest complex, covering 7 forest reserves, is a critical water catchment area for the northern states of Kedah, Perlis and Penang and supplies water to, among others, the Ahning, Muda and Pedu Dams. According to the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) Malaysia, the Ulu Muda forest complex supplies as much as 96% of Kedah’s, 50% of Perlis’ and 80% of Penang’s water supply.
 
The Kedah State Government has been aware of the logging activities in the Ulu Muda Forest Reserve for years, and the Kedah Water Supply, Water Resources and Energy Committee had assured the public since last year that it would look into the issue of logging permits and the possibility of gazetting the entire forest reserve as a water catchment area (The Star, 16 May 2016).
 
The 2016 drought affecting the northern states of Peninsular Malaysia is directly linked to logging activities in the Ulu Muda forest complex, which affected climate and water cycle patterns, resulting in a massive decline in dam water levels and a postponement of the paddy planting season.
 
In addition to providing water for domestic, industrial and agricultural use, Ulu Muda also provides vital ecological services such as climate regulation, soil erosion prevention, biodiversity conservation and maintenance of soil, water and air quality.
 
Without the root system of this rainforest complex to absorb and slowly release rainwater, heavy monsoon rains would end up washing over the exposed cleared forests, resulting in soil erosion, landslides, flash floods and the silting of rivers. Forest clearing releases stored carbon dioxide, which traps heat and contributes to atmospheric warming.
 
A fully-grown tree releases 1,000 litres of water vapour a day into the atmosphere. The reduced ability of a cleared or decimated forest to absorb solar energy and release water vapour leads to higher temperatures and a decline in rainfall. One can imagine the ecological fallout if logging were allowed to continue in Ulu Muda. 
 
From a human dimension, Ulu Muda provides economic and sociocultural services which include ecotourism, the harvesting of forest products and a home for indigenous and rural communities.
 
The preservation of the Ulu Muda forest complex is not a political issue and not merely the concern of environmental organisations. It affects the very survival and food and water security of a significant percentage of the population of Peninsular Malaysia. When the survival of present and future populations is at stake, apportioning blame to political parties and previous administrations is unproductive and downright harmful.
 
Malaysia stands to gain more economic benefits from keeping its forests intact and biologically diverse, than from issuing permits for logging, mining and road construction in forested areas. The economic benefits of logging are short-lived and can sustain only 1-2 generations at most. If the federal and state governments wish to cultivate long-term prosperity, they need to afford greater protection to rainforests, which are worth more alive than dead. There is little point in governmental and municipal initiatives such as recycling and tree-planting campaigns, which smack of environmental tokenism, if state governments and the Federal Government are unwilling to cooperate to conserve and protect the Ulu Muda forest complex.  
 
WONG EE LYNN
COORDINATOR,
GREEN LIVING SPECIAL INTEREST GROUP,
MALAYSIAN NATURE SOCIETY

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Letter to the Editor: Benefits of Plastic Bag Ban Far Outweigh Inconvenience


LETTER TO THE EDITOR

BENEFITS OF PLASTIC BAG BAN FAR OUTWEIGH INCONVENIENCE

The Selangor State Government’s ban on polystyrene food packaging and free plastic bags has been in force for over a week, and so far the objections to the ban are as follows:
(i)         That having to buy reusable bags and containers or pay for plastic grocery bags is a financial burden on consumers;
(ii)            That consumers end up having to buy plastic rubbish bags for waste disposal;
(iii)          That the ban will not reduce waste or pollution; and
(iv)         That plastic bags can be safely and cheaply recycled or incinerated and there is therefore no need to ban or restrict their use.

In response to the above arguments, it is pointed out as follows:

(i) Reusable cotton and canvas bags and washable food and beverage containers can last for years and over hundreds of uses. Therefore, investing in good quality reusable items is better for human and environmental health and makes economic sense in the long run. The only reason that ‘free-of-charge’ plastic bags and polystyrene packaging appear affordable to the average citizen is because they are not aware of the cradle-to-grave environmental and economic costs of plastic waste. 

Plastics Kill!


The United States Environmental Protection Agency reports that between 550 billion and a trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide each year and most of it end up in our oceans.

Worldwatch Institute reports that at least 267 species of marine wildlife are known to have suffered or died from entanglement or ingestion of plastic marine debris. A European Commission study on the impact of litter on North Sea wildlife found that over 90% of the birds examined had plastic in their stomachs.

If consumers had to bear the cost of rescuing and rehabilitating wildlife, mitigating and repairing damage caused by flash floods and clogged waterways and cleaning up plastic litter, plastic packaging would not be free or inexpensive at all.

The reason states and nations have had to impose bans or taxes on disposable plastics is to encourage and expedite behaviour change, which would not take place on its own with sufficient effectiveness if we were to rely on voluntary plastic bag reductions. Governments, retailers and environmental organisations have spent millions on outreach and awareness campaigns with only minimal results. Education and awareness campaigns have little positive impact on an informed but apathetic population, and as such, different strategies are needed. Bans and fees for plastic bags are the catalyst for consumers to reduce their plastic bag usage.


(ii) The most common argument of consumers who claim to ‘need’ free plastic bags is that they need the bags to dispose of household rubbish in, and would now have to pay for rubbish bags. However, most of the plastic bags given out by retailers and vendors are lightweight, single-use plastic bags that are almost never reused. To resolve this problem, the authorities should implement a policy allowing only the distribution of plastic bags above 20 micron (0.02 mm) in thickness and with a minimum capacity of 5 litres, and to charge consumers for it, to ensure that these plastic bags are reused for storage or waste disposal.

Unfortunately, the regulations and policies currently in place seem to mostly encourage the replacement of plastic bags with paper bags, purportedly ‘biodegradable’ bags and cheap non-woven shopping bags. None of these are environmentally sustainable alternatives.

Oxo-degradable, oxo-biodegradable, oxy-degradable, oxy-biodegradable, and degradable plastic bags are merely plastic bags with a chemical additive. This chemical additive breaks the plastic molecular ties and expedites the disintegration of the plastic. Over time, these bags break down into smaller, more toxic petro-polymers, which eventually contaminate our soil and water, and enter the animal and human food chain. Only bags that conform to compostability standards ASTM D6400 or EN 13432 are truly biodegradable.

Paper bags have a high carbon and water footprint, as more water and energy are used in the production of paper bags compared to plastic bags. However, as they are less harmful to wildlife and less toxic to human health, they can be safely used as food packaging. Considering their high water and energy use and low durability, the use of paper bags should be restricted to the sale and serving of food, and not as grocery bags and shopping carrier bags.

Non-woven polypropylene bag

Non-woven shopping bags, referred to colloquially as ‘recycle bags’ although this is grammatically and factually inaccurate, are made of polypropylene and are therefore also plastic although they look and feel like fabric. These should be avoided as they are not durable, break down into plastic fibres easily, and cannot be repaired, recycled or composted. Further, tests by consumer groups found that a large percentage of these bags contain lead.

It is thus reiterated that paper bags, non-woven reusable shopping bags and most brands of ‘biodegradable’ plastic bags do not reduce waste or harm to the environment. The solution to the problem of plastic pollution and waste reduction should incorporate the banning of small, lightweight plastic bags, the distribution only of larger, thicker plastic bags for a small fee, the elimination of ‘greenwashing’ alternatives such as non-woven polypropylene bags, the restriction of the use of paper bags only to food vendors and the implementation of incentives such as rebates and express checkout counters. Long-term solutions include practical initiatives to encourage and increase recycling and composting to reduce household waste and correspondingly reduce the need for rubbish bags.

(iii) In response to the claim that the ban will not significantly reduce plastic pollution, it is pointed out that many countries have banned, taxed or charged for plastic bags, and these measures have been proven successful.

In Denmark, since the introduction of a charge on plastic bags in 1993, the usage of plastic bags has been halved from approximately 800 million bags to 400 million bags, or only 80 bags per person annually. The People’s Republic of China banned lightweight plastic bags and imposed a charge for thicker, bigger bags, and reported a 66% drop in plastic bag usage. CNN Asia reported that China will save 37 million barrels of oil each year due to its ban on free plastic bags.

A plastic bag tax levied in Ireland in 2002 has reportedly led to a 95% reduction in plastic bag litter there. A study by San Jose, California found that a 2011 ban instituted there has led to plastic litter reduction of approximately 89% in the storm drain system, 60% in the creeks and rivers, and 59% in city streets and neighbourhoods. The European Union, Rwanda, Bangladesh, India and many other nations already have plastic bag bans or taxes in place, and these jurisdictions have seen significant gains from less plastic pollution. Considering that plastic bag bans and taxes have been successfully implemented and upheld in both developed and developing countries and jurisdictions, there is no reason why it cannot be workable and effective in Malaysia.

(v)  Despite the claims of the plastics manufacturing industry, most plastics and polystyrene cannot be recycled. Only plastics categorised under codes 1 and 2 are actually separated and collected for recycling. Polystyrene is hardly ever recovered for recycling due to its light weight, low scrap value, prohibitive cleaning and transportation costs and the fact that it is almost always contaminated with food, grease and other matter.

It costs more to recycle a bag than to produce a new one, and as such less than 1% is actually recycled. According to Jared Blumenfeld, Director of San Francisco’s Department of the Environment: “It costs USD4,000 to process and recycle 1 ton of plastic bags, which can then be sold on the commodities market for USD32.”

As polystyrene and plastics are still made from petroleum, a non-renewable and heavily polluting resource, benzene used in the production of polystyrene is a known human carcinogen, and polystyrene and plastics release noxious gases including styrene, xylene and hydrogen bromide when broken down and incinerated, one should seriously question the flippant claim that plastics and polystyrene products could be safely and cheaply incinerated.

Some tips to help consumers remember to bring their reusable shopping bags and takeaway containers with them include the following:

1.      Choose lightweight and portable reusable bags that can be folded neatly and tucked into your handbag or backpack. Make a habit of carrying them with you whenever you leave the house.

2.      Keep your shopping bags in your car if you are in the habit of driving to run errands and go shopping.

3.      Keep your reusable bags by the door that is the most frequently used in your home, where you will be most likely to see and remember them as you are leaving the house or putting on your shoes.

4.      Plan your shopping and include a written reminder in your shopping list.

5.      Purchase or DIY a foldable, lightweight bag that is small enough to hook to your keychain, so you will always have at least one reusable bag with you even when you are not driving or carrying a backpack.

6.      Wash your fabric reusable bags on laundry day (they hardly take up any space) to kill germs and remove dirt and odour, and hang them out to dry. Once they are dry, fold and stow them away immediately in your car, handbag, or backpack so you don't leave them behind on your next shopping trip.


Plastic waste reduction measures should not be seen as a burden or sacrifice, but merely an adjustment. The environmental, societal and human health benefits of reducing plastic usage and waste are numerous and far outweigh the initial inconvenience of having to remember your reusable bags and containers.


WONG EE LYNN
COORDINATOR,
GREEN LIVING SPECIAL INTEREST GROUP,
MALAYSIAN NATURE SOCIETY