The ban on the use of plastic shopping bags has been the subject of debate since the local authorities and shopping operators introduced a "one-day no plastic bag campaign", on every Thursday and Saturday, a few years ago.
While some are receptive to the idea, in the name of protecting the environment, some would appreciate if the government takes into consideration the effect of the policy on consumers and local plastic bag manufacturers before implementing it.
Yes, it is important for the government to safeguard the interests of the public but at the same time, it feels there is a need to preserve the environment too.
Thus, the Domestic Trade, Cooperative and Consumerism Ministry launched a simultaneous nationwide campaign on January 1 that sees all hypermarkets, supermarkets and Petronas petrol stations no longer giving out free plastic bags on Saturdays.
Shoppers now have to pay 20 sen if they insist on using the plastic bags provided by the shopping outlets.
According to the government, the objective of the campaign is to support the government's effort to preserve the environment and the depletion of resources, while instilling environment-friendly values among the public and businesses.
The campaign, which had been implemented only in Penang and Selangor before this, was launched simultaneously in all states with the theme, "Safe Our Future Generation and Earth".
The government explained that it launched the campaign to reduce waste after its projections showed that Malaysians would create 30,000 tonnes of solid waste daily, by the year 2020.
Data released by the US Environmental Protection Agency shows that between 500 billion and a trillion plastic bags are used worldwide each year. Of this, less than 1 per cent of the bags are recycled as it costs more to recycle than to produce a new one.
But this was data compiled in 2003. With the growing population, the number of plastic bags consumption should have significantly increased by now.
According to the World Wildlife Fund Report in 2001, the effect of thrown-away plastic bags on the wildlife can be catastrophic with birds become entangled and nearly 200 different species of sea life, including whales, dolphins, seals and turtles dying due to plastic bags. They died after ingesting bags that they had mistaken for food.
As for the shopping operators, the efforts to reduce the use of shopping plastic bags by imposing a 20 sen fee should not stop them from continuing to fund ways and alternatives to provide convenience to shoppers.
Perhaps, providing shoppers with reusable or recycled plastic bags could be one of the alternatives.
Economically, reducing the use of plastic bags will decrease foreign oil dependency as plastic shopping bags are made from polyethylene, a thermoplastic made from oil.
China, for example, is able to save 37 million barrels of oil each year due to its ban on free plastic bags which has been in effect since 2008.
Apart from China, Bangladesh has banned plastic bags since 2007, while Ireland took the lead in Europe, taxing plastic bags in 2002 and has now reduced plastic bags consumption by 90 per cent. Rwanda banned plastic bags in 2005.
Israel, Canada, western India, Botswana, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Taiwan and Singapore have also banned or are moving towards banning plastic bags.
So, saying "no" to plastic bags is not impossible.