Say 'No' to Plastics!

The Last Straw Campaign organised a marketplace during the week of 2nd to 6th March 2020 at the Sunway College Boulevard. The marketplace hosted vendors and organisations with ideas, items and innovations for plastic reduction in daily life. The impetus for the marketplace was to reduce plastic usage by encouraging uptake of reusable containers by providing viable alternatives to the Sunway Education Group staff and students. The objective was to create a 3R culture of reduce, reuse and recycle.


Vendors displayed wares of different reusable containers and bottles during the Last Straw Marketplace.

As part of the ongoing Last Straw Campaign to reduce plastic usage on campus, the Last Straw Marketplace featured a plastics awareness and education campaign. Students from the Environmental Club, CIMP and ATDP organised a public awareness campaign to inform the campus community on the environmental consequences of plastic to natural settings. The specific category of plastics targeted in this outreach was single-use plastics.


A bin was placed in the centre of the marketplace to drop off plastic waste collected from household item packaging and other “unavoidable” sources.

Student volunteers engaged passers-by to speak with them on the effects of plastic on the environment. Volunteers made an additional effort to speak with individuals with single-use plastic items in their possession. Members of the Sunway community were invited to drop off their plastic items as a pledge to reduce single-use plastic consumption.

The residence time of plastic used for packaging is far shorter than plastics used in other industries. Packaging plastic typically leaves the same year it is produced. With over 40% of plastic being used to make packaging and plastic production growing at a rate of 8.4% each year since mass production began in 1950 to reach 380 million tonnes in 2015, plastic waste is a accumulating at an alarming rate. Given that a large majority of Malaysian waste is sent to landfills (an estimated 93%) and only 8 of 165 Malaysian landfills have adequate environmental controls for landfill gas and leachate, public participation in reducing single-use plastics enables reduction of its impacts on the environment.

Single-use plastics can be largely avoided by adopting a culture of carrying reusable cups and containers. Such Green Living practices have been advocated at Sunway Education Group. Staff and students are encouraged to carry reusable containers, bottles and mugs.

Sunway Education Group took steps to inculcate a shift towards a more sustainable lifestyle within the campus community by presenting all staff with a flask in 2019, and all students a bottle as an orientation gift.

The Sunway merchandise store also presented its range of sustainable lifestyle products during the Last Straw Marketplace to promote uptake of reusable bottles, food containers and reusable cutlery sets.

A dedicated range of Last Straw Campaign merchandise was made to encourage students to adopt habits of reuse. This series includes cutlery sets and reusable bottles. Awareness of global issues surrounding plastic pollution of marine environments and the effects of plastic on marine life empower students to make everyday choices with a global consciousness.

Plastics, however, are far more prevalent in daily life.

The campaign also ran awareness messaging on the Sunway Campus TV on plastics which have already become part of packaging design. With the rise of mass plastic production since 1950 plastic has since became a cost-effective manufacturing alternative to conventional materials such as paper, metal, glass and leather, plastics has become a common component of everyday items.

Source: https://www.instagram.com/p/B9NwwhipCEh/?igshid=o1545plahmwa

To make staff more aware of plastics in everyday items, public service announcements were broadcasted on the Campus TV and on social media. Toothpaste tubes, cosmetic packaging, detergent bottles and cooking oil containers were some of the examples shown. The proliferation of plastic into these items make it difficult to avoid, yet it is important to take steps to reduce the amount of plastic consumed.

Sunway student volunteers from the Environmental Club, CIMP and ADTP programmes conducted a plastic audit of all the items collected during a recent campaign to both reduce plastic usage and generate awareness of the widespread presence of plastic as well as its potential dangers in the food and water system.


Student volunteers in the loading bay with collected plastic waste.

As part of the campaign, staff and students on the Sunway campus were encouraged to participate in the plastic reduction campaign during the Last Straw Marketplace by dropping off plastic packaging and other plastic waste in the Last Straw Bin as an acknowledgement of the need to reduce plastic production and consumption.

Plastic is a synthetic material made from fossil fuel-derived raw material. Its production in consumer goods took off in 1950 with an estimated production volume of 2 million tonnes. As its chemical structure, plastic is made out of large molecules made out of long chains of monomers. Different types of monomers produce different types of plastics. Due to the variation in chemical composition of these monomers, the degradation timeline of different types of plastic types vary. As an example, juice and soda bottles made from PET (polyethylene terephthalate) have shown signs of degradation to the polymer chain within eight months of sunlight exposure.


Students washed and dried the collected plastic for odour prevention and recycling process energy reduction.

An audit of the waste was done according to plastic type. Students used a plastic audit form prepared by the Jeffrey Sachs Center on Sustainable Development, which included a visual guide to inform volunteers’ separation behaviour.

Students weighed and categorised each type of plastic waste. The audit served three main purposes:
1) To establish a baseline for future comparison
2) To serve as a reflection on the sources and management of plastic waste
3) To build capacity in identifying plastics types and plastics recycling


Waste audits are a way of understanding the composition of the plastics received.

From the main bin, single-use plastic cups, sandwich boxes and transparent film plastics were evident sources of plastic waste on campus. The final audit showed a disproportionate amount of PET. The other two notable plastic types collected were LDPE, mainly plastic bags and containers, followed by PP, mainly takeaway plastic containers. Not all plastic items had resin identification codes. Through this hands-on process, students faced the challenges of separating plastics for effective recycling.


Global plastics output in 2015 was estimated to be 381 million tonnes. In comparison, the annual global fisheries output that year was less than half, at 171 million tonnes. This high volume of plastic production is not matched with its recycling rate. Of all plastics produced since it became a popular material in manufacturing, it is estimated that only 9% has been recycled and 12% incinerated, 30% remain in use, and the remainder is in landfills or leaked into the natural environment. The majority of plastics can be remelted for remoulding into lower-value applications. Rather than recycling, in countries with waste-to-energy treatment of solid waste, plastic can also be used as feedstock for energy production. Over 90% of plastics are made from virgin fossil fuel derivatives. Some of the plastic sent for recycling is not ultimately recycled due to contamination and the unavailability of suitable recycling technology.

As a bid to reduce its plastics usage, Sunway Education Group launched the Last Straw Campaign in 2018. Since the campaign started, the gradual removal of single-use plastics was implemented. This began with the removal of plastic bottles in vending machines, at all cafeteria outlets and event caterings (July 2018), the removal of straws from all cafeteria kiosks (March 2019). Prior to the campaign, SEG had already paved the way towards plastic reduction in removing use of polystyrene and plastic bags by cafeteria vendors.

Plastic waste management faces other challenges within the global waste management landscape. Low waste collection rates and low-environmental protections in end-of-life waste disposal in developing countries result in high leakage of plastic waste. In Malaysia alone, 55% of plastic waste is discarded openly, ending up in the natural environment. This waste ends up in informal open dumpsites or in waterways.

Therefore, plastic waste is not merely a global issue but felt first hand on a local scale within everyday lives. SEG’s commitment to plastic awareness and reducing plastic waste is part of the global shift towards sustainable living and sustainable communities.

References:

  • PET Degradation: Chaisupakitsin, M., Chairat-utai, P., & Jarusiripot, C. (2019). Degradation of polyethylene terephthalate bottles after long sunlight exposure. Songklanakarin Journal of Science & Technology, 41(2).
  • Global Fisheries Output: FAO. (2018). The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2018 - Meeting the sustainable development goals.
  • Global Plastic Waste Flow: Geyer, R., Jambeck, J. R., & Law, K. L. (2017). Production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made. Science Advances, 3(7), e1700782. doi:10.1126/sciadv.1700782
  • Data on Global Plastic Waste Flow: Geyer, R., Jambeck, J. R., & Law, K. L. (2017). Supplementary Materials for Production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made. Retrieved from: advances.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/3/7/e1700782/DC1
  • Plastic Mismanagement Data: Jambeck, J. R., Geyer, R., Wilcox, C., Siegler, T. R., Perryman, M., Andrady, A., . . . Law, K. L. (2015). Supplementary Materials Dataset: Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean. Science, 347(6223), 768-771. Retrieved from https://science.sciencemag.org/content/suppl/2015/02/11/347.6223.768.DC1
  • Malaysian Waste Flow: JPSPN, & KPKT. (2013). Survey on Solid Waste Composition, Characteristics & Existing Practice of Solid Waste Recycling in Malaysia. In (pp. 170).
  • New Plastics Economy: Project MainStream. (2018). The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the Future of Plastics. Retrieved from http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_The_New_Plastics_Economy.pdf