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Bagging the right way


Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Monday, 18 September 2017 00:57


Sri Lankans have been inspired to think of alternatives to polythene with ordinary people and academics joining together to try and make a difference. 

The University of Kelaniya has crafted a lightweight fabric bag that it says can hold five kilograms. The bag is made from a mixture of polyester and nylon. It can be folded and carried in a pocket, or a handbag. It can be washed and re-used and could last up to a year.

Such foldable, reusable bags are plentiful in supermarkets and shops overseas and have been available for years.

The bag is priced at Rs. 100 and has become popular among the students and the public. Entrepreneurs have also shown interest in the large-scale manufacture of the bags.

The Colombo University’s branch in Hambantota has proposed a clever way to preserve banana leaves in a home refrigerator for use as a lunch wrap. As many as 47 small-scale businesses are interested in raising production. 

As for machinery, the University of Moratuwa is fabricating a machine to test the bio-degradability and compostability of polythene in the market.

When it comes to climate change and carbon footprints the benefit of paper over plastic is not quite so clear cut. One of the most comprehensive research papers on the environmental impact of bags, published in 2007 by an Australian state government agency, found that paper bags have a higher carbon footprint than plastic. That’s primarily because more energy is required to produce and transport paper bags.

As cities in America and elsewhere have discovered after spearheading polythene bag bans, the increase in paper bags is not necessarily better because they typically have a larger carbon footprint than polythene bags and are commonly used only once. Cities such as New York therefore treat plastic and paper bags with the same restrictions and encourage the use of recycled paper bags that are then promoted to poorer communities. 

Proponents of the paper bag argue that paper is biodegradable even if it comes with a higher carbon footprint, as it does not poison wildlife and leave toxic residue in the environment. 

Even the use of cotton bags is not without controversy as experts point out that the fertiliser, labour and water used for growing cotton gives it a higher carbon footprint. Only 2.4% of the world’s cropland is planted with cotton, yet it accounts for 24% of the global market for insecticides and 11% for pesticides, according to the World Wildlife Fund. A pound of cotton requires more than 5,000 gallons of water on average, a thirst far greater than that of any vegetable and even most meats. And cotton, unlike paper, is not currently recycled in most places. 

This only underscores how complex the issue of garbage really is and how much more research, data and scientific decision-making is needed by policymakers. 

It is true that Sri Lanka is desperate to address its waste problem but clearly there are no quick fixes. Policies are needed to establish zero waste shops, reduce wastage, encourage reuse and build local recycling facilities so consumers can have diverse options. A public and private program to retrain and retool workers in the polythene industry would also be timely as they would be able to find alternative employment. 

Dealing with Sri Lanka’s garbage problem needs a multipronged and multilayered range of solutions over a long period of time. It is positive that a start is being made. 

 


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