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Tote Bags are NOT the Solution to Selangor’s ‘No Plastic Ban’

How many tote bags do you have in the office and at home?


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Tote Bags are NOT the Solution to Selangor’s ‘No Plastic Ban’

First, try to remember the last time you brought a tote bag with you to the mall. How many bags did you bring? Compare that to how many plastic bags you need to fill a weeks’ worth of groceries.


In January, all plastic bags and polystyrene food containers have been fully banned in Selangor and the Federal Territories. This ‘ban’ excluded the bagging of certain items like food and plants, drugs, poisons, live fish, and other aquatic creatures. There’s even a website explaining this ban, bebasplastik.my, and a call for 20,000 residents in Selangor to pledge no to plastic bags.

What is #BEBASPLASTIK?



The campaign is not against plastic bags per se, it is against SINGLE-USE plastic bags. According to the website:

“The Bebas Plastik campaign aims to reduce the consumer’s reliance on single-use plastic bags and to end the use of polystyrene containers…”

The Selangor government isn’t out rightly condemning plastic bags. They want to reduce the dependence of Malaysians on plastic and the ban is a form of conditioning that they hope will take effect on consumers with time. This conditioning method has all kinds of holes in it though, namely: WHERE DO THE RAKYAT'S 20 CENTS GO?! 

20 Cents for Plastic Bag?!

Yes, the 20 cents you pay for a plastic bag goes directly to the pockets of the retailer. Again, the website:

“The RM0.20 charge per bag goes to retailers, just like all other products you purchase from them. They are encouraged to channel it to charity and conservation efforts for the environment.”

So the conditioning only ends with the consumer, at the profit of retailers. You better believe retailers are going to encourage you to buy the plastic bags, double bag every purchase, and make sure they do everything they can to force you to use plastic bags. You might argue that the 20 cents should be put to better use and we agree. It can be put back into the Selangor government for infrastructure projects for example. Clean parks, functional playgrounds, clear lakes, but that’s just us. REGULATE THE 20 CENTS ALREADY SELANGOR. END THIS MADNESS. Ahem. 

Tote Bags Save the Day – Not 

Its ubiquity in the market and the ‘idea’ that it's infinitely reusable have made tote bags a sexy counter argument to plastic bags. The problem is, very few people use them, or even remember they have them. Take a look around your office or home and count the number of tote bags you have. We did just that and found four tote bags on our desk, unused. 

"Branding. Branding everywhere."
These bags serve a dual purpose. They give the 'appearance' of environmentalism, while turning you into a walking billboard. That isn't really a problem on its own but when more and more companies start mass producing these 'environmentally-friendly' totes you create another problem.

Polypropylene Takes a Millenia to Decay

Most tote bags are made from polyproylene, plastic. Not only plastic, extremely sturdy plastic. The other issue no one is looking at is the resource expenditure needed to manufacture tote bags. A study conducted by the UK's Environment Agency looked at seven different kinds of bags: paper, cotton, a biodegradable bag made from starch and polyester polymers, and four bags of varying polyethelyene densities. The study found that the production of tote bags had a larger environmental impact than the production of plastic bags. 

Our Carbon Footprint 

Our carbon footprint is the amount of carbon dioxide and carbon compounds emitted due to the consumption of fossil fuels and is measured in CO2 levels. One cotton bag produces 271.5kg of CO2 while producing one plastic bag only emits 1.6kg of CO2. You would have to reuse your cotton bag 131 times before you would breakeven on a single use of plastic bag. If you'd like to justify the creation of the tote, you would have to reuse one single cotton tote 131 times. Can you do that? 

Single-Use Plastic Bags

The one thing the Selangor government has gotten right about the campaign is its insistence on reusing your bags. What the campaign is missing is the larger impact the plastic bag ban has on the environment. If people do reduce the use of plastic bags in Malaysia, what will take its place? If cotton totes or polypropylene totes become more ubiquitous, what kind of toll would it have in the long-term on the environment? There are 30 million people living in Malaysia, that's one tote per person. Since every person on Malaysia has received at least a few tote bags from road shows, carnivals, and shopping fairs, that's three totes per person and 90 million totes in total. If most of them aren't being used or recycled, where are they going to go? Back into the oceans and landfills without even a single use. 

That said, we've heard of many hypermarkets that have "excess plastic bags" and are giving them away for free still. Maybe shop there and remember to reuse your plastic bags at least three times.

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