As Brunei marked first day of the fasting month on Thursday, many visitors to the Ramadhan gerai were puzzled when they were not provided plastic bags to carry their food home. 

As the government moves to phase out plastic bag use in supermarkets by January next year, many smaller retail shops and event organisers have hopped on the bandwagon in a bid to reduce plastic waste in the sultanate.

While customers may be getting used to the eschewing plastic bags at supermarkets from Thursday to Sunday, most still seem unaware that some Ramadhan gerai have adopted the directive too. 

“Giving out plastic bags is common practice at markets and stalls, it may take a while to get the public and vendors to get used to it. We did it with supermarkets, I think we can do it here as well its just going to take some time,” said one vendor, who asked not to be named.

Vendors prepare food at a hawker stall on Jalan Bendahara on May 17, 2018.

Not all street food markets are jumping on the bandwagon, but the ones that have pledged to forgo plastic bags from Thursday to Sunday include the gerai on Jalan Bendahara in Bandar; Bangunan Tudung Saji in Belait; as well as the markets in Tutong and Temburong. The two biggest markets — the Pasar Malam in Gadong and the seasonal Gerai Ramadhan at the stadium — are not yet participating in the initiative.

Mohd Hannan Abdullah was one of the few shoppers who brought along reusable bags to the gerai, after hearing about the move on the radio. 

“By supporting this activity, we here in Brunei will have opportunity to save the environment… to make Brunei green and free from plastic pollution,” he said.

Acting MoHA perm sec, Shamsul Bahrin (L), and Chairman of the BSB Municipal Board, Hj Ali Matyassin, at the Ramadhan gerai on Jalan Bendahara to support the ‘No Plastic Bag Weekend’ initiative.

On Monday the Bandar Seri Begawan Municipal Department issued a memo saying they would support the government’s directive to phase out the use of plastic bags, with authorities in three other districts saying they would do the same. 

But there was still confusion among some vendors, who felt hesitant to deny plastic bags to customers who didn’t bring reusable ones. Some even gave out plastic bags to those that did have them.

“We don’t blame the vendors [for giving plastic bags] as there are still customers who didn’t bring reusable bags today,” said Shamsul Bahrin Hj Mohd Hussain, acting permanent secretary at the Ministry of Home Affairs. 

We as customers must also play our part, customers must be aware and understand the importance of this initiative.” 

He added that they would work with event organisers to raise better awareness among vendors and customers.

The chairman of Bandar Seri Begawan Municipal Board, Hj Ali Matyassin, said plastic pollution has become a major national problem, with illegal dumping contributing in some part to this.

He shared that between January and May of this year, the municipal board has issued 110 compound fines for illegal dumping — totaling $16,800 — to 37 companies and 73 individuals.