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Responsible disposal of plastic is key

Plastic containers are light, cheap and excellent at insulating their contents. Thus, they have been used for decades. It would be hasty to condemn their continued use without fully considering the root cause of the problem ("Use our own containers for takeaway food" by Ms Jin Zhi Yan; Sept 27).

It is impractical to replace plastics in many of their applications. No other material yet known can match its low cost, ease of manufacture, its light weight, durability and hygienic properties.

The health industry relies on plastic materials, more than any other, to isolate contamination.

The use of plastic in itself is not the cause of pollution. Rather, it is the indiscriminate wastage and disposal of plastic products by irresponsible human beings that have resulted in environmental devastation.

Therefore, an outright ban is not the way forward. Instead, we should do more to encourage the recycling of plastics. The key to handling undesirable waste is "responsible disposal to where they belong".

At a societal level, many individuals are not aware that consumer plastics can be recycled, if they even practise recycling at all. Attempts by state agencies to encourage the public to adopt environmentally friendly practices at home, such as re-using and recycling plastic bags, seem to have garnered little in the way of traction.

On top of existing avenues of raising awareness, the Government could do more to improve access to methods of recycling plastics.

One possibility could be the wholesale removal of general waste bins from public spaces, replacing them en masse with recycling bins of various types, thus compelling members of the public to sort their waste as they dispose of it.

Town councils can also look into reforming waste disposal policies, such as providing recycling bins to residents in landed properties in place of the ubiquitous "green dumpsters".

Perhaps, more importantly, it is down to Singaporeans themselves to make a small but significant change in their lifestyle habits. It is the onus of the individual to take up the recycling of plastics that he consumes, thereby becoming one part of the larger solution to the problem of plastic waste.

Paul Chan Poh Hoi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 25, 2015, with the headline 'Responsible disposal of plastic is key'. Print Edition | Subscribe