Reducing dependence on plastics

I only feel angry when I see waste; when I see people throwing away things that we could use.

– Mother Teresa, saint  

The move towards reducing our daily dependence on plastics had been moving along at a snail’s pace for the past few years.

However, no matter how slow, there was progress. Good efforts were being made via many initiatives initiated by some government agencies, NGOs and passionate individuals.

All these incremental efforts seem to have come to a grinding halt last year with the emergence of the Covid-19 virus.

Many of the ‘Say No to Plastics’ campaigns and their associated environmental initiatives and activities were halted or put on hold due to the necessary MCO restrictions.

The preoccupation with the essential efforts to halt the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic took overriding precedence.

Although some efforts and educational awareness activities moved online and onto social media, generally this had a low impact and was drowned out by matters relating to the pandemic.

It was unfortunate to see that during the pandemic the massive amounts of plastic bags were being used, especially to distribute food aid and takeaway deliveries.

The food aid is of course essential. However, in the absence of alternative and substitute materials locally for the food aid, there seems to have been no choice but to use plastic bags.

The resulting environmental impact via plastic bags in drains, rivers and on land will be with us for a long time indeed.

It would have been ideal to use bio bags (most seem to be made from corn starch) instead. However, moving forward steps can still be taken to rectify the situations if the commitment and willpower is there.

I am sure that there are a lot of people who care about the environment, however, the challenge we all face is taking action to make the change immediately.

We need to take on the role of change-makers. This can be difficult in the face of complacent attitudes and those resistant to change.

The large presence of plastics in our daily lives does make the effort of going plastic-free seem like a huge task.

However, if we take the approach of ‘Progress, Not Perfection’ it would be more readily acceptable, rather than the immediate zero-waste approach. Meaning you work towards zero waste.

The moment you start with even a small step e.g., not using plastic straws, you have made a positive impact on the environment.

There is no need to get rid of plastics overnight from your lives — a step by step is usually more sustainable.

This approach is important because, as we get started on our journey, we want to enable the “quick wins” first. This will keep our momentum going. 

It is also good if you can engage others in your social or work circle to similarly take the step-by-step approach to reduce plastics usage.

Businesses that use plastic-rich products also need to step up and join the efforts. There are some businesses, especially supermarkets that have either already introduced biodegradable plastic bags with others in the process to do so.

However, at the national level, it is time a big leap forward is taken. I can assure you that awareness programmes alone will not help to reduce plastics usage. Laws banning plastic bags and straws would be a good first step.

We need laws to eliminate dangerous plastics from our environment.

I would urge you to contact your elected representatives to put our environment at the forefront of their agenda and election promises, especially reducing plastics.

After all, if they want your vote, you can ask them to legislate for a cleaner environment and a ban on the import, manufacture and use of plastic bags, plastic straws and Styrofoam packaging for a start.

Lobby your politicians. Message them. Email them. Ask them about their commitment to say no to plastics in public forms.

You do have the power to make this change happen to improve our environment.

With the rapid pace of vaccination in Sarawak (the fastest in Malaysia) let’s hope once the Covid-19 pandemic subsides to a manageable level our environmental programmes and initiatives are revved up.

Let us not wait until ecological and environmental disasters strike us before we act — these reactive type half measures are a sign of failure and lack of concern on the individual and governmental level.

The only way that plastics will win is if we let plastics win.

The solution is in your hands.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.