20-cent Into the Pockets or 20-cent Out for the Earth?

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Trash being washed ashore

What are we actually paying for with the 20-cent?

Plastic pollution is definitely a global conundrum that has been scourging primarily the marine biodiversity as some of the mismanaged plastic waste ends up in the ocean. In the same vein, according to a study from 2015 in the Science Magazine, Malaysia is ranked 8th country with mismanaged plastic waste globally. Though it poses as a dilemma, it is heartening to know that the Malaysian government has been proactively implementing measures as of recent to reduce the usage of plastic which consequently, will reduce the amount of plastic waste produced by the country. For instance, Malaysia has drafted a roadmap that aims to abolish single-use plastic by 2030. However, the efficacy of these measures are yet to be clear as they are still in its grassroots stage.

It is undeniable that the implementation of plastic bag ban for retailers has proved its effectiveness in reducing plastic bag usage purely based on the observation of the increasing numbers of consumers carrying their own bags for shopping purposes but yet, there are still suggestions on increasing the 20-cents charge per plastic bag to 50-cents to further discourage certain consumers that are probably not as price-sensitive or possess a higher propensity to resort to convenience. However, the question is “where does the charge for plastic bags go?”. It is imperative to ascertain the channeling of the charge to determine whether it is being reinvested in state funds to support the cause or is it just pure profit for retailers? If it’s the latter, are these proceeds being used to mitigate costs and maximise profits, or to carry out CSR initiatives to further corroborate the cause?

The estimated cost of manufacturing plastic bag is at 3 cents each in Malaysia. This indicates that retailers stand to reap a gross profit of 17 cents per piece. The figure may seem non-existent, but this profit is at the expense of ill-informed consumers. A policy that is meant to be a deterrent to a conundrum has now become a source of income for retailers and a burden for consumers. Due to lack of information and transparency, we can only assume that the gains from the charge are being pocketed by the retailers.

If that assumption holds, these proceeds should be utilised to further corroborate the cause such as donating to organisations that specialise in marine conservation or engage in R&D to strengthen bio-degradable bags and to produce better methods of recycling plastic waste. Another suggestion is that retailers should incentivise consumers that carry their own bag by granting cash rebate or offer giveaways (could also be a mean for retailers to manage inventory by clearing dead stock). As we all know, if the cause of the conundrum cannot be eliminated then the magnitude of the repercussions should be ossified and this burden itself should not only be placed onto the shoulders of consumers but also entities that have higher capacity such as retailers and government.