Two Sabah schools have banned disposable plastic bag use on school grounds, including in the canteens, as a first step to stop reliance on all single-use disposable plastic.
SMK Tawau signed the pledge on Sept 21, 2020, joining SMK Umas Umas in the ‘Borneo Tanpa Plastik’ (Borneo Without Plastic) campaign by environmental groups, which started in 2019.
SMK Tawau teacher Jasni Sinee said the school had before this already banned plastic straws among staff and in the canteen.
“We want to eliminate as much (disposable) plastic usage as possible and not just plastic bags,” he said.
“Even though the overall difference is not drastic, we spot many teachers and staff who are starting to use reusable bags.
“There is also initiative among the teachers to start replacing their plastic straws with reusable straws made from bamboo and recycled paper which are much more eco-friendly.”
Jasni hopes the campaign can encourage staff and students to use more eco-friendly products.
“I hope that there are more agencies that will work with schools to increase awareness of saving the environment and that Sabah will become a state that is plastic-free,” he added.
Half a million plastic bags used
Campaign co-founder Shavez Cheema said there are more than 21,000 signatures in its petition to push for a “plastic-free Borneo”, and the movement is looking to get more schools and businesses to come on board.
Campaign organisers also support the schools by providing posters to raise awareness on the issue, said campaign co-founder Yulinda Wahyuni.
“It is early exposure for the school children to contribute to helping the environment. In the future they can educate people around them about things they have learnt from schools,” she said.
She said school canteens are among the highest users of single-use disposable plastic, with an estimated half a million plastic bags used in the two schools each year.
Shavez said an estimated 324,000 disposable plastic bags are used in a year by the 1,800 students in SMK Tawau.
“That is a lot of plastic usage coming from one school,” he said.
According to Malaysia’s Zero Plastic Roadmap 2018-2030, businesses nationwide must impose a minimum charge of 20 sen per plastic bag by 2021.
Next step - no more single-use plastic bottles
SMK Tawau is the second school to pledge to go “plastic-free”, following in the footsteps of SMK Umas Umas.
SMK Umas Umas teacher Kamisah Kula hopes the campaign can help reduce the use of non-degradable products which are harmful to the environment.
“Although we are not 100 percent plastic-free in school, every school staff member, students and parents are making an effort to replace plastic bags with a reusable bag.
“This campaign raises awareness of each individual’s role in protecting the environment,” she said.
Yulinda admitted that it is difficult to get students to accept the plastic ban in school, but she believes it is just a matter of “re-education”.
“Once the public implements the banning of plastic, it will make a huge difference to pollution problems. At the end of the day, the winner will be the environment,” she added.
The group hopes more schools and businesses will go plastic bag-free by the middle of next year and that some schools will level up to ban single-use plastic bottles by the end of 2021.
Shavez said the group is working on obtaining sponsors to install drinking water dispensers in schools.
“We will be making a difference of (reducing) about two million plastic bags and bottles from just four schools,” he said.