Quarter Bottles A Health and Environment Hazard
By Thameenah Razeek
Most of us are familiar with the sight of empty quarter or 180ml bottles of alcohol heaped at various locations, including the Pettah Bus Station. Anyone who has witnessed a passenger drinking from a 180ml bottle and abandoning it at the bus stop would not be surprised. People nowadays do not hesitate to carry quarter bottles of alcohol in their pant pockets on their way to work. A ‘Nattami’ holds the 180ml bottle in one hand while pushing his cart and gulps down its contents in broad daylight. The bottle is then randomly disposed of. The number of bottles scattered around per week are in the thousands.
According to the Excise Department, 300 million bottles of liquor were sold in Sri Lanka in 2019. There are 52 million 750ml bottles of liquor, 40 million 375ml bottles and 108 million 180ml bottles in all.
Environmental and health organisations have long cautioned about the consequences of throwing small-sized bottles and beer cans to the environment on a daily basis.
Meanwhile, Chairman of the National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol (NATA) Dr. Samadhi Rajapaksa, noted that a new legislation should be enacted to prohibit the use of the 180ml or mini bottle. He claimed that as bottle sales increased over time, social and environmental difficulties arose, and that taxes on cigarettes and alcohol should be raised more to mitigate the impact. He also said that the Government’s expenditure on treating ailments caused by alcohol consumption would be greater than the income generated through liquor tax.
So, why is it that glass is no longer accepted for recycling in some markets? Why is it so difficult for Sri Lanka to prohibit specific glass objects that have genuinely harmed the environment?
The reasons are numerous. The Minister of Environment recently said that an astounding 105 million quarter bottles of liquor were consumed in 2018, with 100% of the empties being disposed of, to the environment. As a result, the Ministry is planning to ban the use of quarter bottles.
Even though the proposed ban on quarter-sized liquor bottles has been discussed for a long time, the authorities have yet to implement the same, despite the fact that it creates significant health and environmental risks. However, a recent survey carried out by the National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol (NATA) on 1,000 people revealed that there is an urgent need to ban the said bottles in order to save daily loss of life.
The survey of 1,000 people
NATA Chairman Dr. Rajapaksa said that the ban is being proposed following a survey of 1,000 people who said that the bottles must be outlawed. He outlined the survey results, including the questionnaire on whether alcohol and cigarettes should be banned in public places, where 95 per cent replied ‘yes’.
95 per cent agreed that sales of alcohol and tobacco should be prohibited within half a kilometre of a school, and the ‘survey’ also inquired as to whether the quarter arrack bottle should be outlawed or discontinued.
Results indicated that 72.4 per cent felt the quarter bottle should be outlawed. Dr. Rajapaksa said that the survey would be used to amend NATA legislation and influence legislators in future policies, and he thinks it would become a vital factor to influence people’s representatives and deliver public opinion directly to the legislators.
He said that these small-sized bottles are simply thrown or dumped in a haphazard manner and farmers were complaining of having seen empty bottles being tossed into their crops or fields. He stated that Authorities from the Ministry of Environment were also in favour of a ban. We have to put an end to this,” he said.
More than 105 million quarter bottles
The alcohol quarter bottle with a volume of 180 ml has been the most serious environmental issue in recent years. Minister of Environment Mahinda Amaraweera said, he had received petitions from various sources to ban the said bottles, including Environmental Organisations and farmers.
“A considerable number who consume liquor are always in the habit of throwing the ‘empties’ all over the place. Paddy farmers have had their legs amputated and more often than not remained in hospitals for months. So, this time around, I had convened several rounds of meetings and discussions to ban the said bottles. However, none of the relevant institutions have responded favourably. Be that as it may, they are now showing some signs of interest and attention,” quipped Minister Amaraweera. Furthermore, he said he cannot comprehend and comment on the rising number of empty quarter bottles left unattended in the environment.
Bottle collectors are obstinate
It has been observed that empty bottles are not properly disposed and that there is no demand from those who earn an income by collecting such bottles. Sadly, even the producers do not have a system in place to recycle them.
When contacted, some merchants who used to collect empty bottles but have since stopped said that used glass is frequently recycled and turned into bottles elsewhere in the country, and that in order to recycle glass, it must first be separated from the waste stream, then sorted and washed for re-bottling, or reprocessed into new bottles and other glass products.
When questioned why they are refusing to purchase these bottles, they said that glass is heavy and costly to transport. Due to the exorbitant expenses, certain contactors purchase them and use the glass professionally broken for construction.
The year 2018
The total number of bottles of alcohol sold in our country in 2018 was 201,221,181, out of which 105,532,169 were 180ml bottles of alcohol. Quarter alcohol bottles account to about 52% of total liquor bottle volume. The point here is that in 2018 there was a decline compared to 2017.
Not even 5% of these are recycled. As a result, 180ml bottles are highly detrimental to the environment. Another fact is that in 2018, 43,115,920, 375ml bottles of arrack and 52,568,092, 750ml bottles were consumed.
The demand is never ending
According to Dr. Rajapaksa and Environmental Groups, the 180ml bottle and other alcohol packaging, pose a severe threat to environment. With 300 million bottles of liquor and 160 million cans of beer sold each year, it is quite difficult to release a large quantity of them into the environment without reusing or recycling them.
Whatever the severity of the problem is, it is impossible to avoid discussing the thirst for alcohol in our society. Alcohol is used to satisfy appetites of people from all walks of life, from the hardworking layman to the affluent and the intellect.
The large scale tax earning industry
In Sri Lanka, there are now two distilleries and 23 breweries in operation. The majority of people in our country are refreshed by the liquor they manufacture, and artificial toddy and toxic liquor are not excluded. There are still a considerable number of persons who have died as a result of the impacts of widespread unlawful female genital mutilation, as well as those who have been chronically ill. True, the ‘small man’ cannot afford to consume whiskey or brandy in this situation. Liquor with foreign brand tags is also served during large gatherings. The bottle that cheers, for those who can afford it is not a huge deal, but for the plantation worker, who cannot afford to lose the money in hand, the quarter bottle brings his sweet drink.
The Excise Department is in charge of collecting taxes from the alcohol and tobacco industries through efficient and effective management. Among their goals is the creation of a healthy Sri Lankan society. As a result, just as billions of gallons of liquor are sanctioned for sale, it would be advisable to initiate and implement a special remedial project before abandoned sachets, beer cans and pint-sized bottles cause dengue or other health hazards.
Change in business
When contacted, Deputy Commissioner of Excise Kapila Kumarasinghe said that they hope to propose a remedy to the problem with regard to the 180ml liquor bottles and beer cans as soon as possible.
He said that it is intended to install simple beer canning machines at all 2,900 registered liquor outlets, which will be implemented in the form of a project by the Central Environmental Authority, the Ministry of Environment, and the Excise Department in the near future. “We also do not wish to spend even a penny of ‘federal money’. It is hoped that the industry, particularly breweries, will bear the burden. They have agreed. Changes in the liquor business over the last decade and a half have generated problems. It is an offence to drive under the influence of liquor,” he remarked.
“If a person who paid Rs 1,600 for a bottle of whiskey is advised to keep Rs 30 as a deposit and bring the empty bottle later, it never materialises. This gives rise to devise a mechanism that would encourage individuals to return the empty bottle and obtain the refund. For the purpose of recycling, this deposit system is implemented for bottles of all sizes. During the colonial period, the wholesale price of a gallon of arrack was Rs 100. An arrack distillery licence fee was Rs 100 at the time. It is reported that seven gallons of toddy were required to distil a gallon of arrack,” he said.
However, Kumarasinghe stated such a mechanism should deter the ‘helpless. plantation worker, ‘Nattami’, who have stamped their day-to-day living in the county of their birth, from returning to the cheap artificial cup of toddy or the illegal liquor bar and drink poisonous portions.