I avoid using plastic straws at restaurants as I just drink straight from the glass. I carry a water bottle with me wherever I go because I get thirsty quickly and I don't like buying mineral water in plastic bottles.
I use a menstrual cup so that I don't have to keep buying sanitary pads that end up in landfills. My menstrual cup, which is supposed to last me for years, costs RM73. I also bought a cloth panty liner for RM30 because I couldn't imagine using and discarding disposable ones every day.
When I tapau food (which I try to avoid doing), I use a metal tiffin carrier that has been at home for more than a decade.
I don't use makeup and I rarely buy clothes. I don't even buy new clothes during Chinese New Year. It's not that I don't like pretty dresses, but I shudder at the thought of all the fabric waste choking our planet.
My family recycles, of course, and I use a cloth bag when I have to buy stuff from the mall. I have been meaning to buy a handkerchief too so that I don't have to use tissue paper.
There is no doubt that plastic straws, like other single-use plastics, are bad for the environment. But imposing a blanket ban on plastic straws, like what the government is trying to do in the Federal Territories starting 2020, is not the best way to reduce their usage.
We should not jump to legislation and enforcement as the first step in changing public behaviour. Bans mean nothing unless they are properly enforced. Enforcement requires time and money, both of which are limited resources especially when the government is facing a ton of debt.
In the case of plastic straws, a blanket ban will also affect people with disabilities for whom reusable alternatives aren't safe. Even though the Federal Territories Ministry claims it will make an exemption for people with disabilities and allow them to get plastic straws, how will the government ensure this at eateries? Will they station an officer at each eatery to ensure that only people with disabilities and no one else gets plastic straws?
If plastic straws are banned totally, how can people tapau beverages? Reusable alternatives like metal or bamboo straws will definitely cost a lot more than the ubiquitous plastic straws. Metal straws are sold for RM7 a piece at some zero-waste stores, 350 times more expensive compared to plastic straws that retail at RM9 for 420 pieces.
If the State forces eateries to only provide reusable straws, then businesses will definitely pass on the cost to customers. Prices of food and drink have been going up as it is. Or is the government also going to threaten eateries not to raise prices despite the huge cost of reusable straws? The State can't have its cake and eat it too.
Instead of resorting to a ban that will not magically make plastic straws vanish, the government should work on creating cool campaigns to reduce the usage of plastic straws. Educate consumers that it's okay to drink beverages without straws. Encourage establishments to provide straws only upon request, so that they don't automatically stick a straw in a glass.
A zero-waste advocate told me that a straw-upon-request policy can cut usage of plastic straws in restaurants by between 80 and 95 per cent.
Why not start with that?
Fast food and coffee chains should also switch disposable cups (which require straws) to glasses for eat-in customers, though this takes up time as glasses need to be washed.
The reason why single-use plastics are so ubiquitous is because they are easy and quick to use. Putting aside the ringgit factor, reusable products are also more costly because they are time-consuming. I spend a fair amount of time washing my cloth panty liner every day and sticking in my menstrual cup when I have my period (it sometimes doesn't go in right the first time).
The government needs to take this into account before forcing businesses to use more expensive (in terms of money and time) reusable products that will only result in higher prices for consumers. Consumers like me can afford it. But what about everyone else?