Online delivery blind spot could foil Putrajaya’s single-use plastics ban, green groups say

The plan to ban single-use bags in retail settings nationwide by 2025 is being negated by increasing plastics use in online deliveries. ― Picture by Sayuti Zainudin

The government must address the sharp increase of plastics used for increasingly popular online deliveries as failure to do so would negate its plan to ban single-use bags in retail settings nationwide by 2025, environmental groups said.

They said this was especially important given the explosion in popularity of e-commerce and food delivery services since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020.

Sahabat Alam Malaysia’s (SAM) senior researcher Mageswari Sangaralingam said the government could not afford to ignore any areas of the economy that is seeing heavy usage of disposable plastic bags and containers, if it is serious in tackling the environmental crisis.

“We need to identify the various sectors that use single-use plastics (SUP), for example, plastic bags, the food service industry, single-use plastics in packaging and many more. Then there needs to be an action plan to deal with it and it needs to be strictly implemented.

“We believe that the plastic pollution crisis should be achieved by reducing the total amount of plastic production, eliminating unnecessary SUPs such as plastic bags,” she told Malay Mail.

Independent of the government, Mageswari said e-commerce and food delivery providers must also explore avenues to discourage excessive plastic use on their platforms, such as imposing charges for plastic packaging or offering return schemes for containers.

“Traders also need to implement delivery systems without using plastic and SUP’s bags. Be innovative in delivery systems to minimise packaging and comply with the bans,” she said.

However, Mageswari, who is also a senior researcher with the Consumers Association of Penang, warned that bioplastic or compostable plastic was not a viable alternative to regular plastic despite the positioning.

She said such products persist in the natural environment for nearly as long as normal plastics do, and emit methane in its decomposition, effectively contributing to global warming.

Mageswari also said that the mass production of bioplastics could result in deforestation of land for growing raw materials such as sugar cane, starch, algae, and many more.

In May, the government announced its target to ban the use of plastic bags for retail purposes across all business sectors nationwide by 2025.

Natural Resources, Environment, and Climate Change Minister Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad said the “No Plastic Bags” campaign has already been carried out in stages, starting with fixed business locations like supermarkets and certain shops.

Additionally, he said the campaign would be expanded to other business locations after being implemented in all physical outlets by 2025.

According to the minister, the ban currently applies only to physical establishments like supermarkets, mini-markets, and sundry shops, but will soon be extended to cover roadside stalls as well.

EcoKnights president Amlir Ayat said the effectiveness of this ban would be debatable given most businesses’ shift to e-commerce, where plastic packaging was extensively used for deliveries.

While shoppers would typically have received one plastic bag for a store visit, online deliveries would often used several times the amount of plastic packaging for just a single item.

As such, Amlir said awareness campaigns must be conducted to educate Malaysians about the impact of their shopping decisions.

“Without motivation, the ban will not succeed. Options are compulsory because, we are so used to plastic bags.

“The public should be made strongly aware that there are various other options available and the government should make this a reality. Apart from the common reusable bags such as cloth bags, the usage of metal metal tiffin carriers should be promoted,” he said.

Despite the challenges, Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) head of conservation Donovan Louis said the total ban on plastic is doable.

He said that MNS has already started small projects among the community to deal with plastic waste issues.

“MNS is currently pursuing and engaging a community led marine conservation project at Pulau Ketam, Klang with our funders from Michelin Foundation France.

“One of the major objectives from this marine community project initiative is to work closely with the island community of Pulau Ketam folks for the better management of their waste issues affecting surrounding island especially on SUP and collection of waste from Sg. Dua and Sg Lima (neighbouring island communities to the main Pulau Ketam community),” he said.

Ultimately, however, Donovan conceded that it would still require the authorities to enforce bans on single-use plastic for the move to have an impact.

Pertubuhan Pelindung Khazanah Alam (PEKA) president Damien Thanam Divean said that the total ban on plastic should have been implemented years back.

“First the government must ban SUPs and let the industry adapt with alternatives which are plenty.

“Only when the policy makers have the courage, the attitude of industries, domestic and food and beverage industries using SUPs will change.

“The power is there with the local government, but they look to being run by incompetent and suspicious talents,” he said.

Source: Malay Mail (6 November 2023)