No free plastic bags in Penang


It seems that plastic makers are saying they are going to distribute 150,000 free plastic bags next year to counter the Penang state government’s ‘no free plastic bags’ policy.

The news was published all over the Chinese-language media on Sunday. See a Guang Ming report here.

Let’s take a poll to see what kind of support the state has for its policy.

[poll id=”60″]

The Penang state government has asked NGOs to back its policy. Here is a response from an anti-plastic bags activist:

I am not sure whether the state government has a strategy to counter the plastic manufacturers who had been attacking the Penang State government since it first started the no plastic bags campaign.

The manufacturers presented their case for the continuous use of plastic bags based on the scientific facts that non-degradable plastics store up carbon (carbon sequestration), which reduces the CO2 to the atmosphere and therefore helps reduce global warming. They also stated that the alternatives, such as biodegradable plastics, are no better and paper bags are even more environmentally destructive in terms of energy used to make them and the cutting down of trees. The ‘facts’ that the  plastic manufacturers presented – as to the environmental benefits of sequestering carbon and the help in fighting global warming by the manufacture of plastic bags – are selective, unbalanced and self serving.

The response of the manufacturers is the same as in the US and other countries when some city councils banned the use of plastics or the giving of plastic bags for free in super markets. Suddenly, the manufactures start to talk about 3Rs (reduce, recycle and reuse) and also the virtues of education of the public on use and disposal. However, all over the world, the recycling rates of plastic bags are low, often below 1 per cent. Some cities may reach 5 per cent for plastics as a whole. Hence, talk about recycling of plastics bags in Penang is unlikely to solve the problem of littering, blockage of drains, pollution of streams, rivers and coastal waters, etc. While indiscriminate throwing of plastic bags is a ‘behavioural problem’, reduction of plastic use will surely reduce the problem of littering and inappropriate disposal. Public education should be more focused and fines for littering are being enforced.

The environmental argument that plastics help in the sequestration of carbon is true in a very limited sense as the plastics are non-degradable. However, the production and manufacturing of plastics uses energy which requires fossil fuel and releases carbon dioxide, probably more than is bound up in the plastics. One has to take a ‘life cycle approach’ of plastics, from production to final degradation and the approach sometimes known as the cradle-to-death approach to see the impact of plastic manufacture.

What the state should do now is undertake an environmental audit on plastic bag use or challenge the plastic manufacturers to do an objective and science-based ‘Environmental Impact Analysis’ of the use of plastics in Penang. The EIA can then be reviewed by NGOs, research institutions, universities or a state-appointed scientific panel. The EIA should be broad in  scope so that the impact on communities, biodiversity, drainage, floods, biodiversity, fisheries and health is assessed, with a cost benefit analysis.

The Penang CM has expressed disappointment that the NGOs have not been more vocal in support of the state policy on plastic bags. Actually, many environmental and civil society groups have done so (see a Penang Forum press statement here) but the media do not repeat their news coverage since it has been reported once.

I assume the state must have a working paper and a strategy before it launched its commendable campaign and presumably would have anticipated the attack by the plastics manufacturer as the campaign affects their economic interests. Expecting the NGOs to coordinate the defence against the attack perhaps reflects a lack of planning and perhaps inexperience in governance. NGOs had not been involved in the planning of the campaign and, though they have generally been supportive, had not been invited to any discussion of the campaign. There are also agencies created by the present government that would be more appropriate to come out to counter the spurious arguments of the plastic manufacturers.

The state government has formed two state councils since it came into power in Penang – the Penang Environmental Council and the Penang Science Council. These councils should be the ones also to come out with statements to refute the claims of the plastic manufacturers. However, both councils seem non-functional at this point. The state government should have formed a task force with the scientific and technical expertise to compile the facts and figures on on the plastic issue. The Environmental Council and Science Council presumably have the scientific credentials to give an authoritative opinion. NGOs are by definition advocacy groups and they do not have the same credibility to the public.

In the meantime, a task force should be formed to review the experiences of other groups, other countries that have imposed bans, such as Bangladesh, Bhutan and many city councils in other countries. They should also to produce fact sheets on the issues; in fact, many such fact sheets exist on the internet.

The state’s position does not appear very coherent at present as it left the allegations by the plastic manufacturers unanswered, and the support of the hypermarkets and supermarkets was not used. Supermarkets have been broadcasting their role in saving millions of plastic bags. Institutions such as universities and colleges have also lauded the ‘no plastics’ campaign. USM has even banned styrofoam. NGO support is only one of many responses possible. It is time for the government to get its act together and plan out a strategy to present its case and get maximum public support.

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“paper bags are even more environmentally destructive in terms of energy used to make them and the cutting down of trees”…I don’t think the timber people and paper bags manufacturers will be happy about this comment, hahaha. In fact it is a known scientific fact that trees only absorb Carbon when they are growing and stops upon reaching maximum growth. The carbon is then stored even if they are chopped down and manufactured to other products as long as they are not burnt. When trees are cut down new ones grow in their place storing more carbon. So contrary to… Read more »


a known scientific fact that trees only absorb Carbon when they are growing and stops upon reaching maximum growth.


This is another pseudo science BS, people like to quote so-called “scientific fact” plucked from the thin air.

A recent NatGeo TV (About Redwood Jungle in Califonia) reveals the opposite, their study found old tree absorb more co2 than young tree.

Karen Lee

I Support the NO PLASTIC BAGS RULE. I salute LGE for daring to take the bullet and bite it. If only more politicians will take a longer term view and push through the difficult initial patches till we are over the hill. No plastic bags will make us the users to be more innovative when we are desperately in need for help to carry our purchases.What’s wrong with pushing our trolleys right to the car and unload our 101 purchases into the boot? What’s wrong with asking the stores for a paper box? What’s wrong with putting the rest of… Read more »


Come on! Penangites, let us help achieve something that other fail, for good cause. Change our habit and use our own bags for shopping.

If the state can impose tax, then it would be better to charge a special tax of say 300% of the cost of the plastic bag, to see whether consumers behave like smokers who would pay regardless of the tax. Or we just accept the increase like that of our motor vehicles which are taxed a few hundreds percentage.


Yes, that Gong Ah Soon is a sore loser – jealous of Lim Guan Eng yeah being the CHIEF Minister of Penang yeah??? Because Guan Eng is the son of Lim Kit Siang and not the son of some big tycoon ya? Initially i felt some inconvenience without plastic bags because we are so used to them but i am now used to it already. If plastic bags are given freely, people use them freely, throw them everywhere. Now, i notice that my mom’s back lane has fewer plastic bags, and i took a peep at the longkang and very… Read more »


I have collected several thousand pieces of plastic bags each year and wanted to give them away for free to anyone for recycle purpose.

Unfortunately no recycle traders in KL want the home-graded plastic bag which they claim no value for recycle.

At the end I have to dump them as other garbages for refill disposal.

Get Real

The problem with Ah Soon is that he thinks he is some hot shot who need to be consulted all the time.

In reality, he acts and speaks more like a thug.

Andrew I

“Penang people are famous for being stingy. They just want free plastic bags to fit their garbage bins especially the size that fits their bins nicely.”

I, too, support the ban. In fact, I think it would be easier if it was a complete ban. I have two reusable bags in my car, so I won’t forget.

Perhaps this stinginess is also the reason why property prices in Penang won’t go down. People who aren’t short of money won’t sell till they get what they’re asking. Good for house owners but not so good for house buyers.


Sick of Ah Soon’s moaning asnd groaning all the time. He thinks he has the best solution for the traffic dispersal system in Penang, and the clown chooses to be an arm-chair critic. Anything good done by LGE is not appreciated by Ah Soon, SORE LOSER. All over the world it is getting more and more difficult to get free plastic bags. If 32 million bags have been removed from the system, can you imagine the amount of less plastic bags in our garbage tips? I suspect over the last year, when it was 3 day NO PLASTIC Bag days,… Read more »


I’m a Penangite currently living in South Korea. Over here, 500 KRW is charged for each plastic bag used to pack up groceries in supermarkets. These supermarkets also provide a “packing station” with boxes (from products delivered to supermarket), rafia strings, tape for you to pack up your groceries and take home – free of charge.


Peak oil may have arrived! Crude oil is going above USD100. With that kind of price, the retailers will not be able to give out free plastic bag. The government should educate the public, but let the free market decide.

This all come back to the most important question: What is the role of a government? If they are allowed to control something like plastic bag, what will stop them from controlling other issues like lights on in a cinema or holding hands in the public?


TECHNOLOGY-BASED manufacturing, biotechnology and life sciences, along with business process outsourcing, are among the new drivers of growth for Penang’s economy, if the state wishes to reinvent itself. These are among the key recommendations highlighted in a recently launched book “Cities, People and the Economy: A study on positioning Penang”. The book is a study which involved collaborative research between Khazanah Nasional Bhd and The World Bank. Authored by Dr Homi Kharas, Dr Albert Zeufack and Hamdan Majeed, the book argues that the island-state should and can reinvent itself as it had successfully done in the past. Read more: Penang’s… Read more »


Penang govt not only need not be paying for the plastic bags but, rid them altogether!…replace them with re-usable environmental friendly fabric bags. Perhaps, a small subsidies to those really in the poverty category. Blooming whingers are always expecting everything free…even, if they got things free, they will still whinge! Judging from your poll Anil, there are more big hearted Penanites than the miserable stingy…!


Pure malaysia boleh apathy. I support not only for Penang, but for the whole country. The rate at which we are wasting and polluting is absolutely atrocious. I have seen retailer’s plastic bag and empty bottle being left on a bench 5 feet in front of the retailer. Morons throwing plastic bag on to the forecourt upon leaving the door of petrol station c-stores (10 steps from the cashier, maybe). Look at the streets around us and see what an uncivilised nation we are. And it has a lot to do with our education, school or other wise.


I haven’t been back in Penang for a year, but was at the public forum early last year and should still have my notes on the misrepresentation of data by the plastic industry. Unless things have improved since I left Penang, I believe the core problem is insufficient dissemination of information on alternative ways of shopping. As with all moves that require a change in mindset, appropriate stepwise publicity and awareness programs would have been ideal. One of the major criticisms by the general public is that plastic bags are needed as garbage bags. There is some truth in this,… Read more »

Ong Eu Soon

What is wrong with LGe on the No Plastic Campaign? LGe as usual disregard the need to have public participation and consultation. In this case he fails to invite any stakeholders, for any consultation before he launch the campaign. Many government agencies and corporations conduct public consultation exercises for the purpose of gaining community acceptance for any initiative that might disrupt the daily activities or operation of any stakeholders. In many circumstances, politicians use it as a public relations exercise to sought public acceptance rather than public participation in decision making. LGe’s inability to use public participation and consultation for… Read more »


I agreed with the current ‘3-day no platic bag policy’ but not without plastics everyday. Ultimately we need platic bags to fill garbage. The public would have to buy garbage bags instead. In the end, supermarkets/shops come out as winners, while the public and state government are losers – namely more expenditure for the former and voters’ backlash for the later. LGE is stupid to have passed this rule only after 2 1/2 years in power. Penang is still very much a third world place, ppl in general are less educated and environmentally counscious compared to developed countries. Daily unhappiness… Read more »


Those who accessed to this website and participated in the polls are English-speaking or the more educated ones, some are even overseas’ ex-Penangites.

I won’t deny all of us should support efforts to go ‘Green’ but majority of Penang voters are still not that educated to comprehend it.

DAP should exercise more caution in any drastic step undertaken even it is for the goods of the state. BN is going all out to sabbotage opposition at the moment…

I have heard numerous complaints towards this policy from the ground and I am very concerned.


Its just one of the efforts Penang is doing to help the ENVIRONMENT

Hey, there are many others that the federal gov does that can be whacked!


Observed the campaign from the beginning. IMHO, Penang government did TOO LITTLE to carry it further.

Soft drinks bottle, food container, wrappers are yet to be tackle! Did you see Penang government pass any regulation to put an extra litter bin just for plastic waste everywhere? e.g. bus stop, public area,etc.


I hate it when I go shopping on the weekends and there are no plastic bags and sometimes I forget to take a bag. I also use the bags for my garbage. But I also want to save Mother Earth. I support no PLASTIC bag day, because I agree that WE need to be educated and also not take things for granted. It was an inconvenience initially but slowly I learn to ADAPT to this new way of living. What more it’s a better and healthier way of living. So people embrace change. If we don’t make an effort to… Read more »

Andrew I

I hope someone won’t be screaming that your poll is bias again.

I think probably a lot of people are miffed at losing a free source of plastic bags for garbage disposal. The hypermarket bags fit nicely over bins.

What should be done is to increase the prices of the smaller plastic bags, which are used to contain even smaller ones holding the actual food. There’s really no point to that and I usually stop the vendor from doing so.


The use of plastic bag is UNAVOIDABLE but Penang Government should discourage the freely use of plastic bags. Penang Government should follow Hong Kong SAR Government where Big Hypermarkets like Western companies TESCO, Carrefour should stop the use because most people who shop in these markets are usually prepared with recycle bags. Afterall TESCO and Carrefour have been stop using plastic bags in the west. Whereas we shop at pasar malams and wet markets are low volume goods as compare to trolley loads in supermarkets.


I think Malaysians have to learn from Taiwanese like Kaohsiung city dwellers where 98% of garbage is recyclable.

This percentage is higher than any cities in other developed nations.


This is totally not an issue her, just go – ahead Penang for NO Plastic bags.


No plastic campaign is good but the government should encourage instead of force


come on, Penang!
you’ve GOT TO support this! No 2 ways about it.