Josephine Tan, General Manager of PGC, delivering her speech on the first day of training. Source: PGC

Penang was the first state in Malaysia to launch a state-wide initiative to reduce plastic bag usage in all super- and hypermarkets in 2009. Consumers were required to pay RM 0.20 for each plastic bag used at checkout counters, which goes to the state’s Agenda Ekonomi Saksama (AED) programme, leaving many with no choice but to bring their own reusable bags when doing their shopping. Penang’s “No Free Plastic Bag” campaign has since successfully dwindled the use of plastic bags among the public and businesses, saving approximately 33 million plastic waste from being dumped into landfills or oceans, where it will invariably contribute to land and marine pollution.

Single-use plastic is one of the most pressing environmental concerns. It is so harmful that the United Nations has launched a five-year Clean Seas Campaign against it. It threatens not only aquatic life but also poses health risks for humans.

While the sale of plastic bags has contributed over RM9 million to the state’s effort to fight poverty, the vast sum indicates that people are still willing to pay to use plastic bags. Subsequently, on 1 January 2021 and as the Covid-19 outbreak continues to derail the anti-single-use plastic movement, the Penang state government took it a step further by banning plastic bags from every Monday to Wednesday and increased the cost of plastic bags to RM1 from Thursday to Sunday.

At the same time, the “No Plastic Straw” campaign is still ongoing. Since its implementation, it has become compulsory for all food and beverage premises in Penang to be registered with the local authorities. These premises will no longer place plastic straws in containers to be obtained directly by consumers and will only provide them upon request.

Penang Green Council (PGC), the state agency which oversees Penang’s environmental efforts, also held a Plastic Disclosure Project (PDP) training in June 2020, following a stakeholder consultation on Penang’s Green Initiative: Solving Plastic Pollution at Source. The training seeks to empower the local councils, who can better facilitate the implementation of projects or programmes to reduce plastic pollution and bridge the gap between government departments and the private sector.

The PDP training, headed by Douglas Woodring, the Founder and Managing Director of Ocean Recovery Alliance, promotes better understanding of the baseline of the current plastic use, recovery, recycling, and use of recycled content so that local councils are better equipped to make significant gains on plastic pollution reduction, resource recovery and reuse of materials. This also helps in devising strategies to engage employees, partners, procurement teams as well as solid waste and public cleansing departments.

As part of the training, a domestic waste survey has been conducted by MBSP to help the local council and PGC to collect data on waste generated by the residents at Taman Bagan Lalang and Kampung Permatang Nibong, two pilot project areas. A total of 390 out of 499 households (approximately 78%) participated in the survey in October 2020, which disclosed that plastic waste ranks third at Taman Bagan Lalang and fourth at Kampung Permatang Nibong in the household waste category.

Participants of the PDP left the training with valuable lessons, chief among which are the ability to organise surveys as well as collect and analyse data, skills in convincing stakeholders to cooperate and implement the project as well as exploring technological approaches that can accelerate circular solutions.

The vision of Penang as a green state cannot be realised if sustainability is viewed solely as a government effort. The 3Rs – reduce, reuse, recycle – need to be internalised by the public and private sectors. The PDP encourages the disclosure of plastic use and waste management strategies by private companies and institutions. Project guidelines also aim to inspire stakeholders to practice sustainability in their operations, such as segregation at source, changing packaging designs, using better materials and incorporating recycling into their production. Ultimately, the goal is to create a circular economy where resources are efficiently recovered and reused. 

*This is an edited article originally retrieved from press statements released by Penang Green Council