Are you aware of Malaysia’s Roadmap Towards Zero Single-Use Plastics (SUPs)? If you aren’t, here’s what you missed out!
Malaysia is planning to phase out single-use plastics by 2030 and one of the suggested interventions is to replace conventional SUPs with other eco-friendly alternatives. But what are these eco-friendly alternatives? And are they actually “eco”? In the roadmap, Malaysia seems to be leaning towards the use of bioplastics as alternative to plastics.
The terms that often come with bioplastics are “biodegradable” and “compostable” which are partially true as it only degrades in a controlled environment of high temperature and sufficient oxygen and cannot be composted at home. These products persist in the natural environment just as long as normal plastics do. If these bioplastics end up in landfills, they can last for centuries and emit methane, a potent greenhouse gas (GHGs).
The mass production of bioplastics may result in deforestation of land for growing raw materials i.e., sugar cane, starch, algae, etc. This contributes to similar problems to that of industrial agriculture’s i.e., deforestation, soil and water pollution, emission of GHGs3 .
What would make situations worst is the inability of our waste management infrastructure to deal with these plastics. Often, these plastics are omitted from composting in facilities as majority are contaminated, for instance, with food stains.
Additionally, irresponsible manufacturers producing dupes of these plastics contribute to problems in facilities because the toxic chemicals of the dupes may accumulate in compost. Therefore, most facilities seldom accept bioplastics for composting.
Bioplastics cause problems at recycling facilities too such as when they end up in a bin filled with PET-plastics, they might result in rejection of the lot. These piles of plastics will then end up in landfills. As said by the CEO of City to Sea, Rebecca Burgess, a UK environmental NGO, bioplastics are a false solution as they are single-use and are limited in options for composting3. The reduction of unnecessary SUPs in packaging and transitioning into a reuse and circular economy is the only true solution to break free from plastics.
 MESTECC (2018) Malaysia’s Roadmap Towards Zero Single-use Plastics 2018-2030. Putrajaya. Available at: https://www.moe.gov.my/images/KPM/UKK/2019/06_Jun/Malaysia-Roadmap-Towards-Zero-Single-Use-Plastics-2018-2030.pdf.
 McGuire, M. P. (2019) ‘Bioplastics: a better option for the environment?’, Edis, 2019(5), p. 4. doi: 10.32473/edis-fr418-2019.
 Robbins, J. (2020) Why Bioplastics Will Not Solve the World’s Plastics Problem, Yale Environment 360. Available at: https://e360.yale.edu/features/why-bioplastics-will-not-solve-the-worlds-plastics-problem (Accessed: 11 August 2021).
 Lomax, J. (2020) 10 things you should know about industrial farming, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Available at: https://www.unep.org/news-and-stories/story/10-things-you-should-know-about-industrial-farming (Accessed: 11 August 2021).
 Gordon, M. (2021) Reuse wins, the environmental, economic and business case for transitioning from single-use to reuse in food service.
 Cho, R. (2017) The Truth About Bioplastics, Columbia Climate School. Available at: https://news.climate.columbia.edu/2017/12/13/the-truth-about-bioplastics/ (Accessed: 11 August 2021).