A baby step, plastic bags will no longer be free

Recently the Macau SAR government moved forward the law proposal on a plastic bag fee, MOP 1 (USD 0.12) after three years of a public consultation up in the air. With a target to cut down 50 per cent of plastic bag usage by consumers, meanwhile, when retailers that fail to follow will face a fine of MOP 1,000 (USD 124) or up to MOP 10,000 (USD 1,237).

Although it is a good start for Macau towards making the city more sustainable, the amount of time being spent on a public consultation on the plastic bag levy clearly signifies the level of importance the government puts on the environmental protection of Macau, compared to nearby regions such as Hong Kong and Taiwan where the plastic bag levy has been in place many years ago. Some countries even implement much more restrictive law on banning plastic bags such as New Zealand, India, Kenya, Rwanda, and others.

Right now, we can see the government is finally doing something green for the city, however, it was probably not happening except when until there is a strong demand by local residents to urge the government to ban single-use plastics followed by the submission of a petition last year in August. Macau is still very behind in terms of sustainable practice compared to nearby regions. The economic development of Macau does not come without a cost. According to the Statistics and Census Bureau (DSEC), Macau had over 35.8 million tourists to visit the city last year, with an increase of 9.8 per cent. Except from the money the tourists bring to the city, there is a big environmental cost comes with it, which is the amount of waste produced by them, that makes Macau as one of the wasteful regions in the Asia, having 2.16 kilos of waste produced per person or 510,702 tonnes of municipal solid waste produced or 1,400 tonnes of waste per day in 2017 ,while being the highest compared to nearby regions, based on the data published by the Environmental Protection Bureau (DSPA). Of which 23 per cent of total waste accounted for plastic materials, and only with 13 per cent of these being plastic bags. On average, each citizen of Macau uses about 2.2 plastic bags per day, that adds up about 450 million plastic bags were used each year. stated by DSPA. As you can measure the impact with the plastic bag levy, it will be very minimal compared to many other single-use plastics items such as take-away containers, disposable plastic packaging, plastic bottles, etc. that still account most of the plastic waste in the city. Even it is still a baby step and better than nothing. It should be considered just the beginning for Macau to combat its overall plastic waste and there is still a long way to go.

The correct message is needed to be delivered by the government through different channels of media on refusing and reducing plastics bags. Often, people don"t get the idea why there is a plastic bag levy. It is not just about making people life inconvenient, it is about the price you must pay for polluting the environmental even it is still very cheap with MOP 1 (USD 0.12) to cost us with negative environmental pollution. The current mindset set by government towards saving a plastic bag is about getting a reward such as a supermarket coupon with a lucky draw, in my opinion, is completely wrong. Paying MOP 1 (USD 0.12) for a plastic bag should mean people need to understand burning plastic creates toxin in the air or polluting our coasts with plastic bags when being disposed improperly, that can put threat on marine life or damage our water quality and in the end effecting our health with harmful microplastics in our food chain. So it all comes down to apply zero waste and avoid the use of disposable plastics to pollute the city. therefore, it should be the right mentality for people to refuse plastic bags and start building a habit of bringing their own reusable bags for shopping.

In order to make the plastic bag levy effective, more effort on education and public awareness of plastic pollution and zero waste practice is needed. In addition, making reusable shopping bags available for buyers and ensuring all the bags being available made of natural and biodegradable materials are also very important.

I believe sustainability practice is a win-win for everyone in Macau in the long run, either for their health, wellbeing and quality of life that money cannot buy.

* Annie Lao is a Macau-based environmentalist