Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) calls on the management of all the temples in Malaysia that celebrates Thaipusam not to use polystyrene food containers in their temple surroundings when serving food to devotees.
Thaipusam is celebrated in the months of Thai (which falls between January and February) for Lord Murugan where it attracts the largest gathering of devotees to their favourite temples.
During Thaipusam, charity organisations provide free food as Anna Thanam. Most of them use containers made of polystyrene when serving free food. Polystyrene plates and cups are widely used to serve food and drinks to devotees citing convenience as a reason to manage large crowds. Due to this lots of polystyrene garbage is produced every year. Even shops that sell sweets and prayer items use plastic bags.
The use of disposable polystyrene containers creates a large amount of garbage. Many are unaware that polystyrene takes around 500 years to degrade in the environment.
Polystyrene packaging normally contains some residual styrene because the manufacturing process is not 100% efficient. These chemicals can migrate into food when it is new and when it is old it breaks down from heat, sun or wears. Eventually, these chemicals are absorbed by the body and pose numerous health problems.
This polystyrene garbage when burned emits dangerous chemicals which again pose health threats to consumers.
As Thaipusam is a religious festival, it is important that devotees are not exposed to harmful chemicals. Bearing this in mind, temple management should ensure that devotees are served food and drinks in safer biodegradable containers.
Devotees too can play their part by bringing their own containers to receive food. This will reduce the amount of garbage produced.
CAP urges the temple management to be firm with stall owners and impose stricter rules to refrain shop owners from using polystyrene packaging or plastic bags. Those found flouting the rules should not be given a chance to set their own stalls in the next Thaipusam.
Lets us strive towards polystyrene-free Thaipusam and use this festival as a platform to save and nurture the environment. This will leave behind a cleaner and safer environment for our children.
N V Subbarow
Consumers Association of Penang
Press Statement, 31 January 2023