Mukvinder Kaur Sandhu.

No to plastic straws

KUCHING: It is an excellent initiative, one that all should emulate.

Mukvinder Kaur Sandhu.

This was the immediate response from the vice-chairperson of Regional Centre of Expertise (RCE) Kuching Mukvinder Kaur Sandhu, who is also the chief operating officer of UCSI University Sarawak Campus, when she was asked to comment on Kuching South City Council (MBKS) initiative to enforce a ban on single-use plastic straws at coffee shops and eateries from April.

“We need regulations and directions such as this to educate our community on the need to be involved and empowered to lead sustainable lives,” she told New Sarawak Tribune.

She stressed that education is more than learning to read and write, adding that it should be nurturing individuals who are able to rise to the sustainability challenges we face today and shift their mind-sets to lead sustainable lifestyles.

“Knowing and eventually realising how straws can affect our environment, in particular our rivers, seas and oceans, is important.

“We have to accept the fact that our environment is under stress and we must take action,” she said.

Mukvinder said Prince Charles in his recent keynote address to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland had referred to the environmental crisis as an approaching catastrophe which needs to be addressed. 

She said Prince Charles has urged that organisations lead a “paradigm shift, one that inspires action at revolutionary level and pace”.

“We simply must act and bring our community to get on board these initiatives and enable them to see how their simple actions allow them to contribute to the world’s efforts in tackling the crisis.

“Straws can take up to 200 years to decompose and have recently received much attention for being a major pollution.

“They have been taken for granted a long time and seem convenient and harmless in our glasses but these single-use plastics along with other plastics come at an environmental cost,” she said.

According to Mukvinder, many marine animals mistake straws and other plastic items as food.

She pointed out that plastic has been reported to be found in almost 90% of all seabirds and in all sea turtles.

“These sea creatures often suffer and die as a result. If this isn’t alarming enough, some studies show that we are also harming our food chain by ingesting seafood which contains microplastics, the result of the breakdown of larger plastics,” she said.

Mukvinder further said no-straw direction is a good start allowing people to understand and embrace these changes which should nurture them to rise to the challenges of the 21st century.

She said these initiatives boost Education for Sustainable Development in communities.

“This is the framework adopted by RCE Kuching or the Regional Centre of Expertise, Kuching, and acknowledged by the United Nations University, Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability, Japan.

RCE Kuching, led by UCSI University, according to Mukvinder has received much support from a cross-sector network of organisations that have come on board to join the centre as stakeholders.

“Together, a number of research and educational programs and activities have been realized, promoting education and action on sustainability.

“These are then shared with the global RCE community through the United Nations University who acknowledge the efforts made in Kuching, Sarawak,” she said.

She added that two RCE Kuching projects have just recently been given the RCE recognition awards as ‘Acknowledged Flagship Projects’ for their roles in contributing to SDG 12 (Responsible Consumption & Production) & SDG 14 (Life Below Water).

These awards, she said, are given annually to RCEs that have made outstanding contributions to address local Sustainable Development challenges in their regions.

She said through collaboration, RCE Kuching is advancing innovative research, programs and activities that strengthen the achievement of global objectives such as the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs.

“MBKS’s vision of a strawless community is a great leap forward towards a thriving Kuching, empowering individuals and whole communities to lead sustainable lives. Kuchingites need to realise that taking by these simple actions, they are actually directly contributing to realising the Sustainable Development Goals of 11 – Sustainable Cities and Communities and 12 –Sustainable Consumption and Production which call for strengthening efforts towards greener cities, reduced pollution and changing our behavior towards more sustainable actions.

“It really does make a difference when everyone –individuals, companies and governments – contribute,” she said.

Kuching South Mayor Datuk Wee Hong Seng said they will start the trial run on March 1 and we will enforce fully the ban on April 1.

Meanwhile, Sibu Municipal Council (SMC) started its enforcement of the plastic straw ban this month.

Wee said the trail run was necessary to give sufficient time for the eatries operators to clear their stock.

He also pointed out that public acceptance of the ban is also necessary.

“We need public understanding that the world’s global warming issues and not just the operators because we also share the problems with the hawkers because when they say they don’t give the straws, they will be blamed, and this worries them because these measures might cause them to lose business.”

He said MBKS is also working on an awareness campaign.

“At the moment, we are thinking of a slogan, a catchy one: ‘Five minutes in your drink, 500 years in the ocean’, that will make people realise the danger of plastics.

“Play your role, say no to plastic straws. I think we are using this type of slogan to explain to people that it is not necessary to have straws and to make it effective, actually education begins at home,” he said.

Wee added that a discussion with SMC chairman Clarence Ting showed a common understanding on the implementation of the plastic straw ban.

“If you want to implement it, if that is the penalty that you want to enforce, let’s put it throughout the state so that it will be easier and systematic, and if you break the rules, the penalty should be the same.

“I think we take that RM50 as a guideline and I think other councils need to agree to it. I think most important is bringing the message across and getting the awareness, that is important,” he said.

SMC Public Health, Environment and Municipal Services Standing Committee chairperson Rhoda Ting recently said SMC enforcement officers would issue RM50 compounds to eatery owners caught using plastic straws from this month and also confiscate plastic straws.

She said since the ban began on Jan 1, SMC had attained an 85 per cent compliance rate.