Welcoming Polystyrene Packaging Ban Will Not Change People’s Disposable Habits

a1 copy

As we usher in 2017, not many of us realise that we had also bid a final farewell to our typical white ‘tapau’ foam boxes − as the Federal Territories Ministry have gone full-fledged to ban polystyrene packages effective New Year’s Day.

“It will be 100%,” said Federal Territories Minister Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor expressing the ban was enforced to encourage all businesses to use only biodegradable materials, as it could be harmful to health, in addition to the high cost of waste management.

As there’s no two ways about this new ruling, how are traders adapting to the situation of substituting their current packaging in their businesses, plus, what are the views of polystyrene suppliers on the subject, and what positive impact would it bring to our environment?

Malaysian Digest finds out.

Businesses Share Their Two Cents On The New Policy

In light of this new policy, surely the biggest blow will be felt by food sellers who regularly use polystyrene packaging. Based on our random survey, here’s what some of them had to say regarding the ban.

Ruzana, 45, hawker stall owner

a2 copyPolystyrene packaging is cheaper compared to other alternatives. By shoving down this new policy down our throats, it forces us to spend more on packaging and in doing so, we are forced to increase the price of our food. With cost of living increasing rapidly, customers will definitely complain should we decide to hike up our prices.

Siti, 24, food court tenant

We hardly have ‘tapau’ orders and because of that we don’t purchase polystyrene packaging in huge bulks – fearing that it’ll be wasteful and we won’t use it if it’s been kept for over two months. I don’t think it will impact our business as much seeing how majority of the time we cater for dine-in customers. But this policy will add more weight on hawkers’ shoulders as they depend on polystyrene packaging for take-outs as majority of them do not have a ‘sit and eat’ area.

Christine, 25, food truck operator

We opt for plastic packaging initially due to quality and ‘image’ – it gives the impression that the business places an importance on the quality of food right down to the packaging. But it is pricier compared to polystyrene packaging, and because of that, a lot of F&B businesses will have to spend a little extra. Also, to make up for their spending, they will have to increase their food prices.

Alyah, 21, café barista

My manager once shared that the reason why the café opts for polystyrene packaging is because it keeps the food warm longer compared to plastic packaging. Yes, price plays a role in the decision-making but at the end of the day, she said that polystyrene offers more benefits over other alternatives. I’m not entirely sure how the implementation will affect our business, but I think eliminating polystyrene from the industry will not solve any environmental pollution as it all boils down to consumers’ habit in disposing the packaging.

Seeing the mixed reactions we got from food sellers, Malaysian Digest reached out to various local councils in Kuala Lumpur, Selangor and Johor to get their insights on the matter, but unfortunately, majority of them have failed to respond further on the matter.

Eqa, however, from one of the local councils in Selangor shared that, “a policy is just a policy – we cannot fully enforce it without the help of the public.

“The public can do their bit by refusing to accept polystyrene packages or consider bringing along their own set of tupperwares,” while mentioning that the public is equally responsible just as food sellers, and other F&B business operators are.

Environmentalists Welcome The Ban With Open Arms

President and founder of EcoKnights and current president of Malaysian Environmental NGOs (MENGO), Yasmin Rasyid opined that disposable plastic bags or one-time use plastic bags were very convenient inventions and served the needs of society.

“But over the years, this invention has resulted in adverse impacts on the environment from irresponsible use and disposal, potential toxic and hazardous impacts of microplastics.

a3 copy“When plastics degrade it becomes microplastics. It then goes to the ocean and are consumed by marine life forms which are then in return consumed by man,” she explained.

Acknowledging that this policy is timely and a good step towards addressing environmental pollution from plastic materials, Yasmin highlighted that a policy is only a piece of paper and nothing else if this paper is not about to help make that change in society and the government.

“There will be a lot of resistance especially from businesses who do not see the long term benefit of changing their consumption or production patterns.

“The government or even consumers need to push these companies to be more responsive and responsible in their (business) impacts on the environment,” sharing that with the right pressure and the right engagements within the policy implementation measures, we can see the policy actually achieve what it is set up to do.

Asking Yasmin’s opinion on the best solution to discard polystyrene materials, she posed a simple question – “To avoid feeling guilty about discarding polystyrene, why not reject taking it in the first place? When it's not in sight, there's no need to discard it.”

Yasmin then put forth suggestions to ensure that the implementation will follow through all year long:

a4 copy

26-year-old Izyan meanwhile, believes that the problem lies within the society rather than the food packaging itself due to the fact that “we don’t take responsibility over our trash”.

“Go to any markets and without a doubt you will see polystyrene packs, aluminium tin cans and many more polluting a significant amount of area and people fail to realise that it wasn’t the wind that blew these items in an ‘organised’ manner,” expressed the local environmentalist.

Working in an environmental enterprise for nearly two years, Izyan pointed out the fact that people are unable to see that polystyrene can be recycled and reused into other products such as support for electrical packaging.

“Post-consumer recycled polystyrene is simply polystyrene that was previously used in other products and has been recycled into our products instead of heading to a landfill – it doesn’t make sense that polystyrene has only one life cycle.

“Recycled content hot cup lids and disposable cutlery may seem like small things, but they are steps toward reducing the amount of non-renewable, virgin polystyrene material in most of the hot cup lids and plastic cutlery in the world,” she relayed.

Dispelling Misconceptions And Educating Malaysians On Degradable Materials

a5Speaking with two polystyrene suppliers, Angela Foo, Managing Director of Logomas Packaging Sdn Bhd and Irene Wong, Managing Director of Megafoam Containers Enterprise Sdn Bhd, both ladies believe that the recent initiative by some state governments to end the use of polystyrene packaging is the result of years of misconception of polystyrene, including misconception of environmental disadvantages.

“There are several alternatives for disposable food packaging options available in the market such as paper; bagasse (sugarcane); empty-fruit bunch (palm oil); and many more, but they are not widely used or accepted by the market,” both said.

Not only are these alternatives unable to resist oil and moisture absorption, but the core reason is that many food sellers will face difficulties switching to these types of packaging due to the cost as most of these packaging in the market currently cost up to 300% more than polystyrene foam.

“By replacing polystyrene packaging with the aforementioned alternatives, the estimated increase in packaging costs for food sellers and the rakyat will be more than RM180mil per year,” the ladies revealed.

a6

Believing that an eco-friendly product doesn’t have to be costly, the Malaysian Plastics Manufacturers Association (MPMA) PS Sub-Committee have researched and developed a new generation of degradable polystyrene packaging products that are eco-friendly and would not bring additional cost burden to the people.

“But this effort will be to no avail should the end-users continue to refuse to dispose the used product properly and continue to litter the environment,” adding that the eight members of the committee collect used polystyrene and recycle it into other non-food related products such as photo frames.

“Polystyrene foam is one of the lowest carbon footprint materials, according to Life Cycle Assessments (LCA), used for packaging as it is lightweight and uses much less energy to produce and transport,” they highlighted when asked about some of the advantages that the product presents.

a7

Following the insightful revelation, Angela relayed that polystyrene contributes to 1.4% of environmental pollution and shared that, “The reason why people are so quick to blame polystyrene is because it’s light – so obviously that’s the first thing you see, but try to dive in deeper and you will see that there are other materials polluting the river and what not.”

a8

Therefore, the two ladies strongly emphasised for the public and local authorities to be educated rather than simply passing down policies and law to help protect the environment as in doing so, it further amplifies the misconception and doesn’t properly address the issue.

“As we said earlier, habit goes a long way. People are quick to pass judgement and jump on the bandwagon without even realising that these materials didn’t suddenly grow legs and decide to pollute the environment,” they shared.

“It doesn’t matter what material you ban, the problem will still exist if people are not educated or are not made aware of the consequences of their irresponsible habit of improperly disposing polystyrene – or any material for that matter.

“Yes, polystyrene is degradable but without the proper procedure and ‘assistance’, it will take a longer period of time,” they stressed.

This goes to show, although the authorities had the right idea, perhaps the new policy is not the best solution in countering environmental pollution.

a9

Echoing the words of both environmentalists as well as the suppliers; education remains the key as to how environmental pollution can be reduced and subsequently protecting our environment from harmful materials.

Therefore, the authorities should emphasise more on educating the public on the importance of proper disposal, rather than implementing more policies as it will not thoroughly solve the problem.

With the implementation still being very new, the authorities should consider working with environmental NGOs and MPMA to come to a mutual agreement as how every party can be involved and help preserve the environment, while not burdening the people with additional cost, and to ensure that the issue will not recur.

- Malaysian Digest

Follow Us

Subscribe Newsletter

Get our periodic news in your inbox!

captcha  

Exclusive EcoKnights official merchandise powered by 3ciety.com