PETALING JAYA (The Star/Asia News Network) - A ban on conventional plastic bags in favour of biodegradable and compostable plastics bags and food containers officially took effect in Malaysia's Federal Territories on Friday (Sept 1).
As a result, the price of plastic bags is expected to increase by three to sixfold, while food containers will cost about 30 per cent more in Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya and Labuan.
For example, 100 pieces of medium petroleum-based plastic bags costs only RM5 (S$1.59), and RM15 for the biodegradable version.
Meanwhile, 100 pieces of polypropylene takeaway boxes cost RM17, but the biodegradable/compostable containers are priced at RM22.
The cost is to be borne by traders, who are prohibited from charging consumers for the environment-friendly packaging or increasing the price of their goods to make up for the higher expenditure.
Business owners in Kuala Lumpur found flouting the ruling will face a maximum RM1,000 compound under the Local Government Act 1976, among other by-laws.
Business owners in Putrajaya and Labuan will be bound by the local by-laws.
While cheap and inert petroleum based-plastics bags are putting pressure on landfills, biomaterial or plant-based ones can degrade in about six months.
However, the supply of environment-friendly packaging and their certification is an issue. Federal Territories Ministry secretary-general Datuk Adnan Md Ikhsan said 20 plastic manufacturers had expressed interest in supplying biodegradable/compostable plastic bags and food containers.
However, to-date, only five manufacturers have been certified by Sirim Bhd with an eco-label.
"The 15 other manufacturers are waiting for their samples' test results. All interested manufacturers are required to submit their documents to the ministry and samples toSirim for testing, which will take at least three months.
"Due to the short time frame, the ministry will allow all 20 manufacturers to begin distribution after signing an agreement to comply with the standard requirements.
"All biomaterial plastic bags will have a "biodegradable stamp" by the ministry, while those certified by Sirim will have an additional 'eco-label stamp', complete with the certification number.
"We also have 15 distributors to help with the supply chain and do not foresee any problem with meeting demand," he said.
Adnan revealed that petroleum-based plastic bags could still be used for certain purposes.
"For example, in a supermarket or hypermarket, petroleum-based plastic bags may still be used to pack meat, fruits and vegetables but biodegradable plastic bags must be used at the check-out counters," he said.
The same applies to wet markets and pasar malam (night markets).
The items can be packed in newspaper or petroleum-based plastic bags but the containers given to customers must be biodegradable.
"We have engaged business owners since June 2016, the last being this August to explain the initiative. There should be no more excuse. Enforcement was supposed to take place from January but it was it was pushed to September to give them more time."