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Plastic bags be gone


Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Thursday, 13 July 2017 00:00


Cabinet yesterday approved a ban on the use, sale and production of polythene lunch sheets, rigifoam lunchboxes and shopping bags. The move is seen as a victory for environmentalists as well as the Central Environmental Authority, which has been doggedly pushing the issue.

The ban is set to come into effect on 1 September, and the hope is that unlike the half-measures attempted in the past, a full-scale ban will shock the public into changing the consumption patterns.

Every year one trillion plastic bags – single use – are used, equating to two million per minute. Different countries have different usage levels but the entire world has to commit to reducing this usage. Sri Lanka’s previous efforts at reducing plastic have ironically had a backlash on the environment and worsened the situation because many people have not changed their habits. 

Environmentalists and industrialists have said the Government’s strategy to reduce the heavy use of polythene by the public by dictating the production of thicker, reusable bags has in fact backfired. The thicker bags, which were intended to be reused, also produce more plastic waste in the environment and require more resin, insist experts. 

They said the dormant 2007 legislation that was revived in January 2016 by President Maithripala Sirisena, who is also Environment Minister, to require plastic bags thicker than 20 microns, has led to the doubling of resin imports but has not seen a reduction in waste and most people still dispose of bags after one use. 

Given the massive garbage problem Sri Lanka is currently facing, it was imperative that people were made aware of this issue and plastic bag manufacturers as well as resin importers held accountable within a better policy system. This ban is hopefully a starting point in achieving just that.

The main driver behind bag bans is to lower how much plastic finds its way into the marine world. About 94% of all birds have plastic in their stomachs, which is also found in the stomachs of many endangered species. At least 267 different species of animals have suffered as a result of ingestion of or entanglement with plastic. In fact, these results caused Australia to ban bags locally in 2003, in an effort to protect the migrating whales in Tasmania. 

In Sri Lanka even elephants have died after ingesting plastic, mostly in the form of bags. This tragedy needs to end. There are other reasons to ban bags as well. In Kenya, for instance, it is done to stop the spread of Malaria and in Sri Lanka it would help stem dengue. In Bangladesh, the Philippines and Cameroon, it protects the sewage systems and avoids floods. In Texan and Indian communities, it is done to protect the cow. In Mauritania, for instance, 70% of sheep and cattle deaths are related to plastic ingestion. The same concern exists for camels in the United Arab Emirates.

Rwanda perhaps has the strictest strategy. Their ban started in 2008 and passengers often have to hand over all their plastic bags. Unfortunately, no statistics exist on the effectiveness of this ban.

It should be a point of pride for the country that it is now seemingly at the forefront of such initiatives, and for all its perceived faults, the Yahapalana government seems to have got this one right.


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