Efforts to stop using plastic bags started 15 years ago in Universiti Malaya Medical Centre consultant paediatrician Prof Dr Lucy Lum’s home, long before the Selangor Government kicked off its no-plastic bag campaign this year.

Since Jan 1, consumers in Selangor no longer get free plastic bags when they go shopping. It’s an extension to the state’s No Plastic Bag Day on Saturday campaign which started in 2010.

Consumers now have to bring their own reusable bags to carry goods they buy or pay 20 sen for each single-use plastic bag.

Under this ruling, plastic bags can still be given for holding raw meat (chicken, fish, beef, mutton, pork) and plants, or roots covered in sand or soil (like potatoes and ginger), flowers, unwrapped loose seeds, products like prescription and poisonous substances and live fish or aquatic products.

But Prof Lum has stopped using plastic bags even for these items. When she goes shopping at the wet market, she carries reusable containers in her shopping bags.

Her plastic containers come in different shapes and sizes, and the Petaling Jaya-based doctor is unperturbed that some are worn and cracked around the edges.

She always declines plastic bags from the market vendors and gets them to store the vegetables, meat, fish and other foodstuff she buys in the containers.

At home, Prof Lum uses reusable containers to store food rather than plastic bags.

At home, Prof Lum uses reusable containers to store food rather than plastic bags.

“I collected these containers from a recycling bin at SS2 in Petaling Jaya. As they were in mint condition, I felt they could be reused. Instead of using plastic bags at the market, I use these hardy containers to store vegetables and meat,” says the 60-year-old doctor who has made green living a way of life.

She lauds the move by the Selangor Government to ban the use of plastic bags as it’s “a step forward in taking care of Mother Earth”.

More people in Selangor are now carrying their own shopping bags rather than paying for plastic bags after the ruling and Prof Lum hopes that it will lead to them becoming more environmentally conscious. She believes that people can adopt green living habits with a little effort and a change in attitude.

“Everyone can do their part to save the planet. While it may seem difficult, consumers must have the right mindset to reduce plastic bag wastage. All you need are reusable containers at the wet market, reusable bags at grocery stores and cloth bags at departmental stores.”

The Malaysian Plastics Manufacturers Association reports the average Malaysian uses 300 plastic bags a year. With a population of 30 million, that means Malaysians use nine billion plastic bags each year.

Prof Lum declines plastic bags even at the wet market because she brings reusable containers to store the food she buys.

Prof Lum declines plastic bags even at the wet market because she brings reusable containers to store the food she buys.

Environment website ecology.com reports that each year between 500 billion and 1 trillion plastic bags are used globally, and fewer than 10% are recycled. Though some are reused, most go directly into the trash as soon as they are brought home from the stores.

Plastic bags can last hundreds of years in a landfill and they disintegrate into tiny, toxic particles that can contaminate soil and water. When these chemicals flow into the ocean, marine life ingest them. Problems arise when humans consume fish containing toxins. This can lead to birth defects, cancer and childhood development issues.

In Prof Lum’s home, her family tries to minimise the use of plastic bags, and reuse them whenever possible. Her three children, who are between 18 and 24 years old, have been taught the importance of caring for the environment since young.

“My children are aware of the impact of pollution and the need to conserve the environment. It is important to teach children that no matter how small your efforts, it can have a big impact on the planet,” says Prof Lum who volunteers at the Buddhist Tzu-Chi Foundation’s recycling centre in PJ every month.

To her, caring for the environment isn’t a monumental task and anyone can do their part to reduce their carbon footprint. As resources are scarce, Prof Lum stresses that people should be mindful and respect the environment.

“Carry tiffin carriers instead of using polystyrene or plastic containers. Teach kids to separate the trash. Pack meals in recyclable containers as opposed to resealable plastic bags.

“When buying onions, garlic and ginger, wrap them in newspaper. The used newspapers can be reused and recycled,” says Prof Lum who used to make her own compost using fruit and vegetable scraps, plant trimmings and fallen leaves.

To further reduce her carbon footprint, Prof Lum has also tried to drive less in the past three years. She parks her car about 15 minutes away from her workplace; she walks to the office.

“Walking is a healthier option than driving and helps me sweat and reduce toxins from the body. On average, I can easily reach 8,000 steps each day to and from work.

“It’s a vicious cycle. When the environment isn’t healthy, we can’t remain healthy. When water is polluted, people suffer from physical healthy intimately linked to the environment’s health,” she says.