Those who have experienced Malaysia’s month of Ramadan are well aware of the wonderful, delicious treats and delights that can be found in the many street markets and food bazaars during this festive period. The more inquisitive folk might even notice that throughout all of these bazaars, food and drinks are all packed in single-use plastic.

It is a cheap, efficient and convenient solution for small businesses to utilise. However, it is beginning to become slightly problematic as Malaysia has been on the warpath to cut down the use of such single-use plastics for years now.

Despite the government’s efforts, which have been effective to a certain extent, single-use plastic in markets and small food establishments is still prevalent. While the small businesses generally support environmental efforts, food vendors in particular, worry about how to manage their cost.

Those concerned with the environment say that the war against single-use plastic will not be effective, unless other players in the chain, including plastic manufacturers and consumers, are made to pull their weight.

In an effort to further mitigate the prevalence of single-use plastic, Minister of Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change, Yeo Bee Yin launched a national roadmap towards zero single-use plastics by 2030. Phase one of this roadmap currently involves pollution charges for the use of single-use plastics and plastic straws being provided upon request only.

Small businesses are generally onboard with the government’s call to cut down on the use of plastic bags. Some believe it will not impact their bottom-line if they decide to use biodegradable plastics as an alternative.

However, some business owners are concerned that the move might actually cut into their profits. “We find it impossible to run a restaurant without the use of plastic straws or packaging. Most Malay dishes are wet or served with gravy. If we pack them using paper, they will leak and it is not practical”, said Mr Taufek Abdul Rahman, one such concerned business owner who runs a Malay restaurant in Gombak, Selangor.

Additionally, all biodegradable plastic bags must be endorsed by the Industrial Research and Technology Organisation in Malaysia (SIRIM) before they are allowed for use. While some biodegradable plastic bags are cheaper than their single-use counterparts, they are not necessarily approved by SIRIM and are thus unusable.

Street vendors have made it known that while they support the government’s decision to cut down on the use of plastic bags, they also need to government to support them on the potential increase in cost that might occur.