Created Wednesday, November 17th
Published on Malay Mail Online
Its makers claim the material creates less solid waste, uses less energy to recycle, re-used as garbage bags, among others
Wednesday, November 17th, 2010 05:05:00
WE refer to the various articles arising from the Penang State government’s decision to extend the “ban/tax” on plastic bags from three days to seven.
The Malaysian Plastics Forum (MPF)/Malaysian Plastics Manufacturers Association (MPMA) are disappointed as we believe the State authorities are influenced by several common misconceptions about plastic bags with statements like:
● “Plastic bags are bad because it is not degradable”;
● “A ban will encourage the use of reusable bags”;
● “Other materials, like paper, are better for the environment”; or
● “Plastic bags are the cause of littering”.
Many wrongly consider plastic bags to be “harmful” because it does not degrade. The sad truth is degradation in the presence of oxygen causes the emission of carbon dioxide (CO2), a greenhouse gas (GHG) that causes global warming.
Degradation in the absence of oxygen, such as anaerobic respiration, is even worse because methane gas, which is 22 times more harmful than CO2 as a GHG, is released.
We quote this statement from the Australian Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts:
● “Our consultancy report, ‘The Impact of Degradable Plastic Bags in Australia’, found that there is probably little benefit obtained by using biodegradable plastics if you dispose them to landfills. This is because microorganisms cannot survive the dry, oxygen-deprived conditions normally found in landfills. All sorts of biodegradable materials, including food and paper, have been found “mummified” and preserved in such conditions. Even if the degradable materials degrade, the low oxygen level means that they release methane as they break down – a potent greenhouse gas”.
● “Plastic bags that are commonly replaced by degradable plastics actually make up a small amount (by volume) of the waste going into landfills, and most plastics are inert and do not contribute to toxic emissions or leaching.”
The non-degradation of plastic bags represents a form of carbon capture (carbon sequestration). It is therefore an irony many are harping on the issue of degradation, which releases CO2 or methane gas, only to see millions of dollars being spent on “Carbon Capture and Storage” programmes (International Energy Agency www.iea.org/Papers/2009/CCS_Roadmap.pdf ).
San Francisco banned plastic retail bags in 2007 to, inter alia, encourage the use of reusable bags. A 2008 survey (www.use-less-stuff.com ) found few switched to reusable bags. Instead, large amounts of paper bags, many with double bagging, were issued, causing an even greater environmental impact.
Compared to a paper bag, a plastic bag consumes 71 per cent less energy during production, generates 68 per cent less GHG emissions, and uses less than six per cent of the water needed to produce paper bags. In addition, plastic bags create 80 per cent less solid waste, and use 90 per cent less energy to recycle.
Littering is a behavioral problem. San Francisco commissioned a Streets Litter Re-Audit in 2008 which showed plastic retail bags as a composition of total large litter increased from 0.60 per cent, before the ban, to 0.64 per cent after. Plastic bags are thus a very small component of total large litter and the ban did not reduce this composition.
Even if plastic bags are not used during the purchase stage, a plastic bag is still needed for disposing garbage. In the absence of plastic bags, consumers will have to pay for garbage bags. The cost of a regular size plastic bag is 4 sen while the selling price of a medium-size garbage bag is 40 sen. This will only cause hardship to the poor.
Garbage bags are comparatively thicker and require more energy and resources to produce. Shopping bags have handles which allow easy tying of the bag for garbage disposal. A garbage bag uses more plastic material as the top part of the bag does not have a “cut-off”. Consequently, more, not less, plastics actually end up in the landfill.
To judge the impact of a material on the environment, it is necessary to measure all the parameters right from the source of the raw material (“cradle”) up to its end of life (“grave”), that is, Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). Plastic bags, whether in terms of the total energy used, fossil fuel used or greenhouse gas emission, has the best LCA compared to other packaging materials.
The wise use of plastic bags is to only take what is required (REDUCE); using the same plastics bag at both the purchase and disposal stage (REUSE); and returning any excess (RECYCLE). They will benefit both consumer and the environment. Our proposal is to set up a workgroup based on the 3Rs model (Reduce, Reuse and Recycle) with all stakeholders working together.
The Penang authorities should put in place stronger mechanisms to punish littering altogether, and increase the collection and recycling of all materials, including plastics.
We call upon the State government to urgently adopt the 3Rs model as an integrated and holistic approach that would not only benefit the environment but also not burden the rakyat. The 3Rs model, in place of the ban/tax model, needs to be given a chance to work!
Popularity: 50% [?]