by AFIQ AZIZ / pic by HUSSEIN SHAHARUDDIN
RETAILERS could pocket millions of ringgit from the 20 sen charged to customers for each plastic bag used as the pollutant charge ends in the businesses' bank accounts instead of funds for "green" efforts.
A few states have implemented the "No Free Plastic Bag" policy to discourage consumers from using the environmentally damaging plastic bags. Customers, who insist on the plastic bags, are charged 20 sen each.
But it is generally believed that the collection from the sale of the less than five sen worth plastic bag would go to authorities or consolidated collection accounts.
Malaysia Retail Chain Association (MRCA) said based on feedback from its members, the levy collected has not been channelled to the government as they are not bound to channel the money to any authorised fund.
"The money doesn't go to the state. If you read their website, retailers are only encouraged to do corporate social responsibility (CSR), otherwise, the retailers retain the funds," MRCA told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR) in a text reply.
The "No Free Plastic Bag" has been somewhat successful as consumers have started to bring their own bags to carry their purchases, which subsequently reduce the number of single-use plastic bags.
Dubbed as pollution charge, the fee on plastic bags has been implemented in Penang, Selangor and Melaka.
Penang is the first state to have implemented the "No Free Plastic Bag" policy almost a decade ago. It started to charge 20 sen for each plastic bag every Saturday since 2009 before extending it to every day in 2011.
Melaka introduced the same policy in 2014 for every Friday, Saturday and Sunday before it was extended to every day from January 2016.
Selangor introduced the policy on Saturday in January 2010 before a mandatory "seven days a week" was implemented in January 2017 and each plastic bag is charged 20 sen.
Presently, the collection involved supermarkets and food outlets with the majority of the collection comes from supermarkets. Selangor is already looking to have a total ban on plastic bags by 2030 in line with the national aspiration.
Kedah has also started to charge consumers 20 sen for every plastic bag since April for purchases conducted every Friday and Saturday.
But there is no policy that requires retailers to channel the plastic bag sales to any authority.
It was reported that around RM2 million was collected in Selangor in the first half of 2017, while businesses in Penang secured about RM9 million of plastic levy since the state pioneered the project in 2009.
Association for the Protection of Natural Heritage of Malaysia (PEKA) Puan Sri Shariffa Sabrina Syed Akil said the promised campaign has not materialised for states that implemented the the plastic bag charge.
"I have never come across of any supermarket or business that pays back the 20 sen to any non-governmental organisation or any charity work. So, the campaign did not materialise. It did not work and has failed," she told TMR.
Shariffa Sabrina said PEKA has queried about the pollution charge but there is no concrete answer. "So, I suppose it goes back to the company," she said.
The Selangor government is mulling to take over the fund manager role with the local government authority (PBT) collecting the money.
Selangor exco for Environment, Green Technology and Consumer Affairs committee chairman Hee Loy Sian said the current collector is not doing their best as no significant campaign awareness has been seen in the last decade.
"We found that some of them are doing the CSR job, but some are not. That is why we want to take over," he told TMR.
Since 2010, supermarkets in Selangor have been "encouraged" to charge the fee which would be used for environmental campaign and programmes including using more recycled bags.
Hee said the role will be taken over by the state before year-end and the money will be parked in a trust fund for environmental awareness campaign and CSR purposes.
Hee said initially, the government planned to impose the rule by July 1 but had to defer the date as it needs to find the best collection mechanism.
"We are studying the system now in which retailers can report directly to the PBT on a monthly basis for each and every plastic bag charge they have collected.
"Once the system is ready, we will implement it," Hee said, citing the Penang government collection mechanism as one of the options.
"But in Penang, there are just two PBTs. We do have 12 in total. So it may be easier for them to manage compared to us," he added.
On March 15, the Federal Territories Ministry has also mandated the "No Free Plastic Bag" for retailers under its jurisdiction.
Given the above, The above "no free, single-use plastic bags" an "no plastic straws" rulings are as meaningless as token gestures as the unused bicycle stands in the Petaling Jaya New Town Centre in Section 52, Petaling Jaya, which hardly anyone come to by bicycle from other parts of Petaling Jaya, partly due to the hot and humid climate and the risk of getting knocked down on the roads leading to this centre.
However, I suppose this is the Petaling Jaya City Council's (MBPJ's) idea of "making Petaling Jaya into a liveable city" comparable to world class cities in the developed countries where bicycling along the streets during the day is more more practical due to the cooler climate.
I suppose this is a symptom of a cut and paste culture, whilst the MBPJ has approved more building of monstrous high-rises in Petaling Jaya - which will turn our home city into a concrete jungle and a heat island.
This video shows the experience of Singapore where researches measured an increase of 4 degrees C between an outlying area of Singapore and 29.1 degrees C on Orchard Road in central Singapore.
"Why Singapore Is Heating Up 2x Faster Than The Planet | Why It Matters | CNA Insider"