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Other states should also ban polystyrene food containers
Published on: Friday, April 22, 2016

Kuala Lumpur: The move to ban the use of polystyrene food containers, including plates and cups should not just be championed by Johor and Perak.The ban should also be implemented by the rest of the country to ensure rapid reduction of the styrofoam impact on landfills and the environment, says Malaysian Environmental NGOs (MENGOs) Chairman Yasmin Rasyid.

"If every Malaysian disposes one styrofoam (a kind of expanded polystyrene) container irresponsibly, we will end up with 30 million pieces of floating toxic waste in our river systems and ocean.

"So, the earlier we implement the ban and focus on improving the systems, the faster we can reduce the impact (from the perspective of waste) on our landfills and environment," she said here Thursday.

Perak and Johor are moving towards a ban on polystyrene containers and plastic bags. For Perak, the ban is effective June next year.

Johor Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin is expected to announce the ban at the tabling of the 2017 State Budget by year-end.

Commenting further on the ban, Yasmin said while she applauded the move by the two states, she nevertheless, had some reservations on the matter.

"I suspect the civil society and NGOs (non-governmental organisations) will be observing closely as a ban without effective enforcement is merely empty talk. We would like to see the government agencies to first walk the talk by banning the use of polystyrene containers in all government cafeterias and government events.

"You can do this (the ban) overnight but you can't expect the people to change overnight. Thus, the state government should be spelling out its step-by-step plan to the public and hope to gain their support," she added.

She also stressed that the state's move should also spell out which industry needed to first adopt this turnaround.

Polystyrene, a non-biodegradable material made from petroleum-based compounds pollutes waterways, which indirectly contributes to flash flood when drainage systems are blocked with plastic wastes.

Yasmin also noted that besides the impact on the environment, there are also health concerns in terms of food (hot) placed in styrofoam packaging whose chemicals could leach into the food.

According to her, when the food is consumed, it will bio-accumulate in the fatty tissue and consequently, enable toxic chemicals to circulate in the body.

"First, we need our leaders to take that first step to stop using it. Then we can innovate solutions from there."

Centre for Environment, Technology and Development Malaysia chairman and executive director Gurmit Singh noted polystyrene containers or packaging took a much longer time to degrade.

"They create problems in drains, worsen litter and are a headache at landfills. Many of them also serve as mosquito breeding grounds," he said.

One could also argue that the use of styrofoam is also not limited to food packaging and containers alone but to the wider industry such as in the construction sector.

Gurmit, who is also a social activist, concurred with this argument saying that the same problems were relevant in the wider use of styrofoam elsewhere but "the authorities are silent on these".

Asked if restaurants would increase the price of take-away foods because of the shift to using biodegradable packaging, he said restaurant owners or the manufacturer of the packaging should not take advantage to make higher profits.

"There should not be an increase in prices as alternatives are not that expensive. The use of own containers should even be encouraged by food-sellers," he added.

Over 100 US and Canadian, as well as some European and Asian cities such as Muntinlupa in the Philippines have banned polystyrene food packaging because of the negative impacts on humans and the environment. – Bernama



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