The banning of polystyrene food containers in Penang

What would Penang be like without polystyrene food containers? State Executive Councilor for Environment, Health, Welfare and Caring Society Phee Boon Poh chats with Su Aziz on implementing the ban and his hopes for public support to make it a success

Photo: Stacy Liu

Why have you implemented the ban on polystyrene food container usage in Penang?
According to our studies, flash floods and dengue is most rampant in Penang. The most common cause is the choked drainage systems full of plastic bags and polystyrene food and drink containers. The breeding of mosquitoes in these containers in open fields, roadside, on the trees and the like, is also a factor.

In January 2009, dengue cases surged in Penang. From Jan 1 to June 1 that year, no less than 135,000 locations were checked and a total of 5,807 locations have been found to be breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Only 583 summons were issued as the rest are in public areas. In order to reduce the flash floods, breeding of mosquitoes and hike up on cleanliness, the State Government announced a self-imposed ban on the usage of the polystyrene food containers in all Government related functions and The No Free Plastic Bag Day in Penang. This was the beginning of the awareness campaign.

What are the alternatives to polystyrene food containers that have been sourced at a cheaper price?
As alternatives to the polystyrene food containers, it is much cheaper, cleaner and healthier to use the tiffin carriers. Other alternatives are paper-box food containers that have advertisement printed to reduce the price to the consumer.

Where else in Malaysia have practised the banning of polystyrene containers for takeaway food?
Penang is the first state to have officially declared the ban of the polystyrene food containers.

How is the ban communicated to the hawker stall vendors and the public?
All the Government Elected Representatives such as JKKK, city councillors and several NGOs are working on spreading the message to the public and they were informed during different functions on the negatives of the usage of polystyrene. The government used five steps to reach this objective: Kesedaran (awareness), Pendidikan (education), Perubahan (change), Amaran (warning) and Tindakan (action).

This polystyrene food container ban was brought up a couple of years back, why wasn’t it fully implemented then?
Basically, we began in 2009 to create Kesedaran (awareness). 2010 was the Pendidikan (education) and 2011 was when we appealed to the consumer to change the takeaway culture and mind set, and support this campaign and make the Perubahan (change). This year is the process of issuing Amaran (warning) on the impending ban on polystyrene usage and from Dec 1 onwards is the enforcement. We have to go through these processes to create an understanding of the negative effects of the polystyrene food containers usage and to gain the support and the benefits of this policy.

How can the public support this ban of polystyrene food container usage?
With the understanding of the consumers, by creating the love for health and environment, it is much easier to implement as they are part and parcel of the decision-making. Love is the first part in the process while enforcement follows suit. The involvement of the community in the change process gives them the ownership and with this, consumer power. 'No change' is no longer an option.

How different is Penang’s environment today as compared to 20 years ago?
20 years ago Malaysia signed the Earth Summit Declaration, and what happened is history. Since Mar 8 2008, Penang began to implement the principles and commitments of this summit. In short, global commitments, local actions and Penang leads.

Please paint a picture of the State Government’s vision for the environment in Penang.
Penang has signed the Kyoto Protocol's City Principles. Penang is also a member of the International Partner of Local Authority, Global Partner Solid Waste Management, Zero Waste Associations, Climate Alliance, Commonwealth Climate Change Networking Committee, Hwangwang Disaster Management Associations and Penang sits on the board of the International Environment Technical Centre under the United Nations Environment Program. Penang has been exempted from the Privatization of the Solid Waste Management in 2011. We have established the Penang Solid Waste Council to implement the waste management towards Zero Waste by separation at source and to further increase the 3Rs policy which we have achieved 23.48% - the highest in the country and beyond the National target of 22% by 2020.

Finally, what are the next steps to make Penang even more eco-friendly than it is today?
There are a few plans for this. We’re setting up the Penang Green Council to regulate the green certification of the commercial and industrial sectors. Then the Green School and Green Citizens Program are to create better understanding of the environment and building up the support base to increase the awareness and love among the people. Also, the Zero Waste policy via data collection to do networking for creation of a new green economy under the program Your Trash Is My Treasures where everything from e-waste, food waste to green waste are recycled. This is to make Penang cleaner, greener, safer and healthier. And this is part of our ECO-Town Policy.

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