Time to refuse and remove plastic

PLASTIC pollution reduction rules and policies encourage the replacement of plastic bags with biodegradable plastic, paper bags and cheap bags.

When "greener" plastic bags break down in landfills and waterways, they contribute to microplastic pollution, posing a risk to marine life and ecosystems.

Non-woven cheap lightweight bags that feel like fabric are given as goodie bags at events or sold at supermarkets. They are made of polypropylene and are also plastic. They are not durable, contain lead, break down into plastic fibres effortlessly contributing to microplastic pollution, and cannot be restored, recycled or composted.

Paper bags are perishable as long as it does not have a plastic coating, plastic-based glue or laminate. Paper has a high environmental cost as it needs a lot of water and energy to supply compared to plastic bags. However, as it is less harmful once discarded, it can safely be used as food packaging. Still, using paper bags does not reduce waste as paper bags are single-use due to their short durability and cannot be recycled once contaminated with food, grease and dirt.

A study posted in Science by Jambeck and his associates in 2015, estimated that Malaysia is the eighth greatest producer of mismanaged plastic wastes out of 192 coastal countries. It estimated that in 2010 Malaysia produced 940 million kilograms of mismanaged plastic waste, of which 140-370 million kilograms of plastic waste might have been washed into the oceans. Thirteen per cent of Malaysia's solid waste is plastic, of which 55% is mismanaged.

Litter on streets is washed into drains, which carry it into the sea. Industrial areas and cities also generate waste that damage marine life through microplastic pollution. We are literally consuming seafood containing microplastic.

Over 100 million marine animals are killed each year by plastic waste. It is estimated that there are a hundred million tonnes of plastic in oceans. Marine plastic pollution has affected at least 267 species. Seabirds that feed on the ocean surface are prone to ingesting plastic pieces. When the marine species consume these plastic, the toxins are absorbed into their body and move up the food chain. As plastics break apart in the ocean, it releases potentially toxic chemicals such as bisphenol A (BPA), which then enters the food chain.

To reduce plastic pollution, we need to reduce waste and change our mindset. There must be incentives and laws to make it easier to dispose waste without rubbish bags, and for food and goods to be sold with little or no packaging.

Add two more "Rs" to the 3R programme – reduce, reuse, recycle, refuse and remove.And we need more recycling collection bins in all areas.

Saral James Maniam
Forum Air Malaysia