Putting an End to Single-use Plastics
By Faadhila Thassim
The negative impact of single-use plastic on the environment has been a long established fact, the continuous effort of the Ministry of Environment and the Central Environment Authority (CEA) to ban the manufacture and use of these harmful products have been of success with the recent decision of the Cabinet to ban single-use plastic and polythene from January 2021.
A proposal was put before the Cabinet of Ministers in August with focus on the ban on sachets and water bottles considering the adverse impact that the production and continuous use these single-use plastic could have on the environment.
Director of the CEA, Hemantha Jayasinghe stated that this has been a continuous effort from 2017 of several entities including the Ministry of Environment and the CEA with the issuing of a number of gazettes curtailing the use of plastic and polythene and that the proposal for the ban of single-use plastic will now be put into effect in 2021.
Categories that will be banned
Thereby the types of single-use plastic and polythene that will be banned from January 2021 are the packaging of chemicals or pesticides in Poly Ethylene Terephthalate (PET) and Vinyl Chloride (PVC) containers, sachets made of polythene and plastic less than 20 ml/20g use of packages of 100 ml/100g or more as an alternative.
However, the ban imposed on sachets does not include those produced for food and medicine.
Furthermore, a ban will also be imposed on inflatable toys made of plastic excluding balloons, balls and floating toys together with a ban on plastic cotton buds excluding hygiene products.
Further the ban of plastic bottles, straws, yoghurt cups and that of plastic cutlery will take place in different phases after April 2021.
Jaysinghe added that the intention behind advocating such ban is to ensure that the alternatives are comparatively less harmful to the environment adding that steps have been undertaken by the CEA to promote alternatives.
He further said that alternatives are being discussed with the Consumer Affairs Authority, the Ministry of Health and all the relevant sectors and that therefore, the alternatives would be the most effective for attaining the purpose of such ban.
However, the suggested alternatives for packaging of chemicals and pesticides are the use of packaging made ideally of glass or other recyclable products, while cotton buds and toys have also been encouraged to be made with the use of eco-friendly, hygienic and biodegradable alternatives.
He added that while relevant authorities are involved in finding alternatives, it is also the responsibility of the production of single-use plastic and polythene industries to research and discover alternatives that is environment friendly while marketing their products in an effective manner too.
When queried if producers of the mentioned single-use plastic and polythene that will be banned have been notified given that there is a short period for implementation, Jaysinghe added that all relevant producers have been informed and there has been sufficient time given for such producers to switch to eco-friendly and biodegradable materials for the productions of these products.
He added that the use of paper as an alternative has not been discouraged as it has a comparatively less impact on the environment and the marine ecology as opposed to single-use plastic that has been negligently dumped across the country and as paper is biodegradable, they could easily be used as an alternative for food packaging.
Jaysinghe noted that it is the responsibility of producers to ensure that they do not use banned material for their productions but that however, despite the ban of polythene bags, lunch sheets and food wrappers in 2018, there is still the production and trade of these products especially in Pettah.
He added that since 2018, up to date, several products have been taken into custody during raids across the country and that several producers are ignoring the ban imposed on the manufacture of such hazardous products that are immensely harmful for the environment.
Jayasinghe further added that polythene bags are still being produced in small unmonitored spaces and are still being marketed as in total ignorance of the ban imposed.
He added apart from the licence provided for the manufacture of such products, there are those involved in the manufacture without permitted licences and that if this continues following the ban of single-use plastic and polythene ban in 2021 the purpose of such ban will be ineffective.
Jaysinghe also noted that one important message that has to be passed to the public is of the support that they could provide to the relevant authorities by not purchasing from such manufacturers and lodging complaints against producers that they are aware of who are using prohibited materials as the public is now aware of the ban implemented in 2017 and that is to be implemented in 2021.
Actions against violators
Jayasinghe added that the Environmental Act permits legal actions to be taken against those who use banned material in their productions adding that the Amendment to the Act that is to be made to the Environmental Act will also permit the CEA to take actions against offenders and while legal actions have been consistently taken against those who ignored the ban imposed in 2017, legal actions will also be taken against those manufacturing using materials that will be banned in 2021.
An officer attached to a production of single-use plastic factory speaking to Ceylon Today stated that the relevant authorities had duly informed them of the ban in January 2021 and that there are alternatives been formulated with different material combinations.
He noted that however, during the initial implementation of the ban, there could be a drop of the volume of the products manufactured that could result in a decline in income.
When queried if as a single-use plastic product manufacturer if it is understood that the ban will be of benefit to the environment, he stated that although it is understood that this is for the protection of the environment, one important factor that has been ignored by authorities over the years is that even if they switch to the use of recyclable material, the recycling efforts of the Government has been ineffective and there is in most situations no mechanism for the recycling of such material.
However, the recent Cabinet decisions however, emphasised that there would be mandating to indicate the 1-7 international recommendations to promote the recycling of all plastic products.
In 2019 a letter addressed to the President, Prime Minister, the Speaker of the Parliament and Ministers by the Centre for Environmental Justice emphasised the need to ban of single-use plastic by emphasising that over 60,000 sq Km of the Bay of Bengal has now become a dead zone due to the dumping of plastics.
The letter also emphasised on how Sri Lanka is among the five countries that has badly dealt with plastics and that we are losing tourism due to the dirty beaches.
The CEJ further noted that it is also an established fact that the packaging industry is responsible for 90 per cent of the single-use plastics and 50 per cent of the total plastics around the world and in Sri Lanka.
Regulations such as a ban on the production of polythene of 20 microns or less, a ban on the manufacture of polythene food wrappers and a ban on the burning of polythene in the open environment had been enacted from 1 September 2017 in order to reduce the environmental damage while steps had also been taken by the CEA to promote an alternative to the banned polythene while the regulations are in force.
There were also discussions being held in August 2020 for the ban of import of plastic in a bid to protect wild elephants.
In October 2018, the European Parliament approved a ban on single-use plastics with the measures expected to come into effect in 2021 while in South Korea, the Ministry of Environment announced an initiative in 2018, to reduce waste from stores to zero per cent by 2027 while the Government is encouraging companies and individuals to engage in what it calls ‘precycling’ – the decision to not use wasteful products such as plastic straws and single-use cups.
Considering the growing environmental concerns around the world, it is evident that the ban on single-use plastic would be of benefit in the long run, which could also be seen as the first step towards the complete reduction of the use of plastic in Sri Lanka and globally.
Such ban would also help mitigate the negative impact that the negligent disposal of plastics would have on the marine eco-system.