Life will go on without single-use plastic, says zero-waste advocate

Bamboo straws are one alternative to plastic straws. (Facebook pic courtesy of Tak Nak Straw)

PETALING JAYA: Zero-waste advocate Mareena Kerschott-Yahya has sought to allay concerns over the upcoming bans on single-use plastic and plastic straws, saying there will be enough time for businesses to adjust to the move.

The ban on single-use plastic will take effect in 2030, while plastic straws will be prohibited in the Federal Territories beginning Jan 1, 2020.

Mareena, who co-founded the Tak Nak Straw movement, said it was good that the government had set a timeline, otherwise nothing would happen.

“At least now, people will treat this environmental concern seriously and try to work towards reducing waste in the country,” she told FMT.

She also sought to reassure those who were worried about finding alternatives to these products, saying there was enough of a supply for those who really needed them, for instance at zero-waste shops.

“But think about why you need these alternatives when you were doing fine before single-use plastic products existed,” she said.

She gave the example of bamboo straws as an alternative to plastic straws, saying her group had been working with the Orang Asli on this initiative.

She acknowledged that the supply of bamboo straws was limited as they were meant to provide an income for the Orang Asli, not generate profit.

“Nevertheless, we discourage consumers from opting for these alternatives as they are only meant for those who really need them.”

Mareena Kerschott-Yahya and Carolyn Lau, founders of the Tak Nak Straw movement. (Pic courtesy of

Mareena said she had met with resistance from many when she started the Tak Nak Straw movement.

“But looking back at what the movement has achieved today, I think we are ready to do away with single-use plastic.

“I think the public is now more receptive towards the idea of refraining from single-use plastic products which include plastic straws.

“We have been receiving more inquiries about how and where people can participate in this movement or contribute towards reducing waste.”

She admitted that some were still “less receptive” towards the notion of refusing to use plastic straws at eateries, but added that the percentage of such people was “very low”.

“So far, our challenge has been in the rural areas as there are other factors at play there, such as financial difficulties and a lack of understanding about the negative impact on the environment.

“But we are not giving up, and the Tak Nak Straw movement will not stop until we have achieved a 100% plastic straw-free environment.”

Convenience over common sense

For Claire Sancelot, who runs the country’s first zero-waste shop, The Hive, the struggle against single-use plastic products revolves around people’s inclination towards convenience over all else.

Claire Sancelot, who runs Malaysia’s first zero-waste shop. (Twitter pic)

“I don’t know what happened over the years, and how people let convenience take over their common sense which has created a whole world of garbage.

“I hope common sense will prevail when the bans come into place. We don’t need these products, they are not necessities,” she said to FMT.

She agreed with Mareena that the government’s timeline gave the people enough time to adjust, adding that it was easier to stop providing such products than to come up with alternatives.

“When you don’t provide, customers will come up with their own solutions. They will bring their own containers or shopping bags.”

Not everyone was behind the zero-waste lifestyle, she said, but the number of those who were outnumbered those who were against it.