I Love the Penangites

Penangites will have to do without plastic bags beginning January.

From Jan 1, 2011 all hypermarkets, supermarkets, departmental stores, pharmacies, fast food restaurants, nasi kandar restaurants and convenience stores (including at petrol stations) will be asked to stop providing plastic shopping bags to customers, the Penang State Assembly was told today. 

Read more: Penangites will have to do without plastic bags beginning January http://www.nst.com.my/nst/articles/PenangiteswillhavetodowithoutplasticbagsbeginningJanuary/Article/#ixzz147HFFjlU

Who said we cannot do it?
It has been a while since I last think about sustainability issues wearing the hat of a policy-makers. I blame my day-job, which forces me to think about these issues in the realm of capitalism – it is a risk a corporation could not afford to ignore: reputational risk, regulatory risk, litigation risk, and of course, financial risks. We-are-no-treehuggers mindset has well crept into mine.
And while all that I must say after one whole year when it comes to making the country more sustainable is that we need better enforcement, it is indeed interesting to see that this kind of effort is being made.
Reduction in plastic bags mean reduction in demand for plastic bags, albeit small, which somehow lessen the amount of resources needed to produce them. Think water. Think fossil fuel that runs the machine.  Think petroleum products which is one of the raw materials.
At the end of the life-cycle, reduction in plastic bags means reduction in amount that needs to be transported (which means less energy used for this purpose), and happily, it also means a smaller area of landfill that is needed for these plastic bags to wait for the day they finally completely disintegrate and decay, which is sadly 10-20 years after that. Or as some sources quote, up to 1000 years.
I bet, when we think of it this way, the life-cycle-analysis way, we can agree that this is not a small measure. It is something small that leads to something big.
Let’s analyse, though rather simply, if there’s any bad effect to this.
  1. The retailers get to be paid for any purchase of plastic bags – extra stream of revenue.
  2. Increase the demand for reusable bags – hence increase the production of such, which also use raw materials. But since this kind of business can be regarded as ‘green business’, I think we can keep a blind eye to this. People do need more than one bags, don’t they?
  3. If it is replaced by paper bags (say some stores choose to do so) – it will defeat the purpose, since in general, Malaysians do not recycle, and the chances of paper bags being thrown away are bigger, hence they are left to decompose. Okay, paper can decay at a faster rate, but think of the trees that had to be logged for this purpose.
  4. Plastic bags producers will have less demand, which means less business.

But to be a real theorist, I’d say the removal of one non-sustainable product from the market always means that there are still streams of other business opportunities – one that you call ‘green products’.

People always need something.


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