Plastic pollution, a major threat to the marine environment (McNicholas and Cotton, 2019), is predicted to worsen by 2025 as a result of rapid population growth and insufficient waste management. If the current condition continues, the oceans will have more plastic than fish by 2050 (World Economy Forum, 2016).
The plastic bag is one of the most popular and essential plastic products in modern culture as it is flexible, light, strong, water resistant, and cheap. The plastic bag, however, raises serious concerns due to its long duration of decomposition, low recycle rate, and negative environmental and human health impacts, making the product the most discussed plastic material at different levels of public policy for more than a decade (Nielsen, Holmberg, and Striple, 2019). Levy is one of several types of policy tools to limit the use of plastic bags (UNEP, 2018). Levy is an obligation to pay a certain amount to the government or other authorities (Oyedele, 2014). The levy on plastic bags is a levy on suppliers (domestic producers or importers) of plastic bags, on retailers purchasing plastic bags, and on consumers, charged at point of sale with a standard price set by law (UNEP, 2018). The plastic bag levy, usually about US$0.05 per bag, raises awareness of consumers about this issue (Rivers, Shenstone-Harris, and Young, 2016).
The Government of Malaysia applies the plastic bag levy on consumers through No Plastic Bag Campaign Day, which once a week levies RM0.2 (US$0.049) per plastic bag in supermarkets and grocery stores. The policy aims to promote sustainable consumption. However, research shows no significant behavioural change arising from the campaign. Even though plastic bag consumption decreased in the first 6 months of the policy’s enactment, this was a result of people shifting their shopping habits to avoid the No Plastic Bag Campaign Day. Some shoppers even bought more plastic bags as their own bags were not big enough (Zen, Ahamad, and Omar, 2013).
In Indonesia, members of the Parliament have postponed enactment of a plastic bag levy proposed by the minister of finance. Previously, the country had undertaken a pilot project to implement a plastic bag levy on consumers at selected retailers in 23 cities. The result was a 40% average reduction in the number of plastic bags used (UNEP, 2018). The finance minister took a step further and advocated a levy of Rp200 (US$0.015) per plastic bag (Suroyo, 2019), with the revenue to be used for a waste management trial project (Pratama, 2019). The idea, however, met opposition from plastic producers, who argued that other materials such as rubber also have negative impacts on the environment. The levy on plastic was not fair, they argued, because it could collapse plastic industries. Plastic producers urged the government to further promote recycling industries instead of imposing a levy on plastic (Suroyo, 2019).
The senior minister of state for the environment and water resources of Singapore believes that plastic bags are required largely by people who live in a tropical climate for hygienic purposes. She argues that a levy on plastic bags, which could lead to substitution of more environmentally friendly products such as disposable and paper bags, does not necessarily reduce environmental degradation since disposable and paper bags degrade the environment in a different way (Boh and Tan, 2018). Her argument is based on the findings from the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources and National Environment Agency, showing that the production of disposable and paper bags requires excessive amounts of water and resources and generates carbon emissions. The latter implies that the greener plastic bags will still create massive carbon emissions if they are incinerated. In fact, instead of going to landfills, most of wastes in Singapore end up being incinerated. Thus, despite the proposal by members of Parliament to impose a plastic bag levy, the government has not endorsed any ban or charge on plastic bags or single-use plastic products (Boh and Tan, 2018; Royte, 2019).
Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and Ministry of the Environment have revised the ministerial orders related to the Act on the Promotion of Sorted Collection and Recycling of Containers and Packaging requiring businesses to introduce fee-incurring plastic checkout bags and prohibiting them from distributing such bags free to consumers. These new ministerial orders came into force nation-wide on 1 July 2020 to curb the excessive use of plastic checkout bags and encourage consumers to change their habits (METI, 2019).
In other parts of the world, levies to reduce plastic pollution are imposed not only on plastic bags but also on other plastic products. Ireland, for instance, has its ‘latte levy’, to be nationally imposed in 2021, that charges up to US$0.27 for a single-use plastic cup. In ASEAN and the Pacific countries, the plastic levy is still mostly imposed only on plastic bags. Although the range of products subject to the plastic levy is still limited, several countries in the region have enacted regulations to prohibit single-use plastics, which cover several plastic products.
Another policy tool from regulatory instruments referred to by UNEP (2018) is prohibition. In Indonesia, Bali Province enacted Regulation of the Governor of Bali No. 97/2018 on the Restrictions on the Generation of Disposable Plastic Waste Collection. Per this regulation, production, distribution, supply, provision, and consumption of disposable plastics, consisting of plastic bags, Styrofoam, and plastic straws, are no longer allowed. New products must replace disposable plastics. In line with what has been done by Bali Province, Bogor Municipality issued Regulation of Mayor of Bogor No. 61/2018 on the Reduction of the Use of Plastic Bags, which restricts the provision of plastic bags to consumers in all shopping centres and modern stores.
The Government of Thailand has issued Thailand’s Roadmap on Plastic Waste Management 2018–2030 that, amongst others, will ban in 2022 lightweight plastic bags (less than 36 microns). However, due to the deaths of marine animals after swallowing plastic, the ban has been moved up to 2020. Consumers started bringing their own shopping bags in early 2020 (Vassanadumrongdee and Marks, 2020).
Malaysia has issued Malaysia’s Roadmap Towards Zero Single-Use Plastics 2018–2030, which regulates the use of plastic items, including plastic straws, single-use plastic bags, food packaging, cutlery, food containers, medical equipment, and many more. In the first phase of the roadmap, starting 2019, provision of plastic straws without requests from consumers in fixed premises such as hypermarkets, supermarkets, department stores, convenient stores, fast-food restaurants, petrol station convenience stores, chain stores, and pharmacies was no longer allowed. In the second phase, starting 2022, the ban on plastic straws will be expanded to include non-fixed premises. Moreover, biodegradable and compostable items will be developed to replace conventional plastic products.
The Province of Jilin, China, has issued the Regulation on the Prohibition of Production, Sales, and Provision of Disposable Non-Degradable Plastic Shopping Bags and Plastic Tableware. Per this regulation, production, selling, and provision of plastic bags and plastic tableware are restricted to commodity sales and commercial service activities. Shopping malls, shops, and market organisers are required to monitor the implementation of the plastic ban.
Nationwide, China implements a combination of regulatory and economic instruments by banning and levying plastic bags simultaneously. In 2008, the Government of China imposed a ban on plastic bags thinner than 25 microns and a levy on thicker ones. Chinese consumers were then introduced to durable cloth bags and shopping baskets to replace plastic bags. Within a year, the efforts showed significant progress as shown by the reduced use (up to 70% on average) of plastic bags in supermarkets. Seven years since the enactment of the ban and levy, China has successfully reduced two-thirds of plastic bags used in supermarkets and shopping malls. Such success, however, has not been experienced in rural areas, where use of plastic bags persists (UNEP, 2018).
In Jakarta, Indonesia, Governor Regulation No. 142/2019 on The Obligation to Use Environmentally Friendly Shopping Bags in Shopping Centers, Supermarkets, and Traditional Markets came into effect on 1 July 2020, obliging retail businesses to stop providing plastic bags to customers and provide reusable shopping bags instead. Such businesses need to communicate to consumers the use of environmentally friendly shopping bags as well as the negative effects of single-use plastic bags.
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