I used to do my grocery shopping every Saturday but all that has changed ever since the Selangor government introduced No-Shopping-Bags-Day every Saturday.
Now don’t get me wrong here. I’m all for protecting the environment. I just feel that the Malaysian government can do a lot more than simply banning supermarkets and hypermarkets from giving away plastic bags with which shoppers can carry their purchases in.
It’s a self-defeating exercise. At least for now. For one, it’s only every Saturday. So now I do my grocery shopping on any day except Saturday, except for emergencies. Which is what most Malaysians are doing, as well. Grocery shopping on Saturdays are actually quite a pleasure now that there are no crowds nor long queues at the checkout counter.
And just because it’s No-Shopping-Bags-Day doesn’t mean that consumers aren’t getting any plastic bags at all. Innovative shoppers use those free transparent bags used for putting in vegetables or fruits. Yes, the ones that come in rolls, usually found hanging over vegetable and fruit bins. [NB: In most Malaysian supermarkets, you get to pick your vegetables and fruits, place them in those plastic bags, then take them to the weighing station to be weighed and tagged with the price and barcode.] These bags are quite flimsy but they do a fairly decent job of making sure your purchases don’t tumble all over the car.
I’ve always been the type of person who’d carry her own shopping bags when grocery-shopping long before No-Shopping-Bags-Day every Saturday was even introduced. But the campaign has got me miffed because now it means I have to buy plastic garbage bags to line my garbage bins with. You see, those shopping bags are pretty useful as garbage bags; for keeping wet clothes in after a day in the swimming pool; to wrap your slippers before packing them into your luggage, to carry tae kwon do uniforms, extra shirts and project materials before placing them into your children’s bags; for putting in small items to bring to the office. These plastic shopping bags are actually one of the most re-used things in the world! They’re just getting such a bad rap from everyone. I mean, sure, plastic bags if not disposed of properly can go into waterways, into the oceans and ultimately choking an innocent dolphin. But the point is: so can many other materials, like those six-pack plastic rings that almost choked Lovelace to death in the movie ‘Happy Feet’.
In Europe, it’s the norm to bring your own shopping bags in supermarkets. And I don’t mind it there one bit. Why? Because in addition to such no-shopping-bags drive, the governments there are wholeheartedly into recycling. In Belgium for instance, they’ve set up a system whereby people can leave recyclable items outside their homes and shops, say, carton boxes every Friday (I don’t recall the exact day anymore), and a special lorry would come and pick it up and send it to a recycling centre.
In Malaysia, however, little is being done to promote recycling. There are recycling bins in certain areas but they’re not being maintained. You see them overflowing for weeks and weeks on end.
Malaysians are also not being educated enough because they dump all sorts of things into those bins, including food waste. Oh the shame of it!
There are also recycling centres in several places all over the city that accept segregated items like plastic and glass items. But they’re few and far-between, and do little to promote recycling because they pay such a measly amount for your recyclable materials. You end up spending so much time and petrol on several huge bags of recyclable items that fill up your entire car…only to find out that you only get RM3 (less than $1) for them at the recycling centre.
[NB: But we still continue our recycling effort at home, where we have 4 carton boxes — one for plastic, one for paper, one for tetra paks (washed and dried before being flattened), and another one for tins. Try segregating your trash at home and you’ll be dumbfounded with the mountain that you’ll accumulate in just a week!]
What the Malaysian government should do (and all other governments while we’re at it) is to crack down on manufacturers’ packaging guidelines. There is a huge difference between protecting goods to be sold and going overboard with the packaging.
Just take a look at this package of pudding:-
The pudding comes in individual plastic cups. They’re arranged on a moulded plastic base. Then the whole package is shrink-wrapped. You don’t even have to do any calculation to figure out that you’re spending more on the packaging than on the product itself. And all of that packaging just goes to waste. You can’t reuse them in any way.
Have you bought a USB drive recently (a.k.a. thumb drives or pen drives)? Notice how they’re packed in those rigid moulded plastic packs that are so darn difficult to open up? There’s usually a cardboard enclosure inside, printed with the brand of the USB drive, plus a small manual which can be a single sheet or a miniature booklet, depending on the price of the USB drive. All those things — the rigid plastic pack, the cardboard enclosure, the instruction manual — all cost money, take up so much space in our dumpsites, and can never be reused. The only redeeming thing about it is that the cardboard and manual are made of paper and are biodegradable.
And don’t even get me started on packaging for beauty products!
In addition to cracking down on manufacturers, the Malaysian government should take more effort to educate people on recycling AND spend more money on recycling — putting in more recycling bins everywhere, making sure the recyclable items are being collected on a regular basis, then making sure there are sufficient facilities to do the actual recycling. Something should also be done about compostable materials, i.e. selling (or giving away?) affordable composting bins for households to use and/or promoting making your own fertilizer out of food scraps using earthworms. I know for a fact that those worms are being used in Malaysia right now to breakdown palm trunks and husks and convert them into fertilizer. I looked for those worms but they’re only available for big-time businessmen, not simple folk who’d like to do their part for the environment.
No-Shopping-Bags-Day can be a good thing if implemented everyday AND in tandem with many sustainable means of reducing, reusing and recycling. Until then, it’s only a case of ‘melepaskan batuk di tangga‘, i.e. doing something half-heartedly for the sake of being seen as doing something.