By Dinuka Jayasinghe –
Polythene is being dumped hazardously in socially and environmentally sensitive places like road sides, marshy lands, low lying areas, public places, forest and wild life areas, causing numerous negative environmental impacts such as ground and surface water pollution, air pollution and even deaths (recent Meethotamulla disaster).
Waste collection and disposal play an extremely important role in a country’s cleanliness and sustainability drive, with people’s health and the conservation of resources being the responsibility of every Government.
Plastic is some kind of a superhero when it comes to making our life easier. So much of the objects in our lives are built with plastic, so it’s no surprise that the stuff gets everywhere. We don’t even care about how it will impact the environment though. Single-serve beverages and snacks in plastic packaging are an easy grab-and-go option when you’re on the go. We all know the story when we look around. And how about plastic shopping bags so you don’t have to remember to bring another bag every time you head to the store? Buy it free and throw it on the go. Approximately 20 million shopping bags and 15 million lunch sheets used in Sri Lanka daily. Wherever you dump those polythene will stay as it is for more than 1000 years and killing you slowly. But who cares?
Do we care about our Environment?
It is very sad to say right after the Dalada Perahara it became apparent that there were about 200 tons of garbage near Dalada Maligawa premises. Also it was reported that more than a million plastic bottles were collected from Sri Pada (Adam’s Peak) area which were discarded by pilgrims who had travelled to Sri Pada for past few months. If we can’t protect the sacred places from garbage, how are we going to protect the other places? Even BMICH premises found to be filled with so many garbage after the recently held book fair. Is that the mentality of our so called readers?
These kinds of stupid behaviours have to be changed immediately if we want to move forward as a country.
The Government and us
The Government had planned to reduce polythene usage without even introducing an alternative. Hope the Government had conducted a feasible study before implementing this strategy. Almost everyone complaining the Government and do nothing. My opinion is banning polythene is not necessary if we have the right discipline to use it.
Sometime back, we had 3R Policy which is Reduce, Reuse and Recycle but now all developed countries promote Zero Waste. This means all waste should be treated as resources for another production process. But unfortunately we promote No Reduce, No Reuse and No Recycle.
It is sad to say dumping garbage at public areas is a ritual of many Sri Lankans. I still wonder what these authorities and so called environmental societies were doing all the time to keep this country clean. Putting an environmental quote on a diary or spending millions on an advertisement does nothing to this country.
Sri Lanka spend only 0.16% of the GDP on Research and Development (R&D) of the country which is a very low amount compared to some of the developed and developing countries. So it is not practicable to wait till the Government to come up with a greater solution other than banning. What if we could request from all the universities (both Government and Private) to conduct a Combined Research and come up with a greater solution for this waste crisis. That is how developed countries do.
The other negative point I see is we all wait till the last moment. We wait until the Government comes to us and do something. Lack of Right Discipline and Self-Awareness made Sri Lanka a developing country over decades.
Developed Countries vs. us
Countries like Japan has more serious discipline in waste management. Japanese are more responsible for their household’s waste. Dropping trash in public is a Social taboo in Japan. Japan has 44 waste separation categories. Waste categorizing is much complicated when comparing to other countries. But self-awareness made it so easy to them. That led Japan to an incredibly clean and eco-friendly country in the world without any prohibitions.
Inventing and investing more on Renewables and Going Green has become the world’s trend these days. Developed countries make more jobs from sustainability development. Some countries have autonomous vehicles to collect garbage. While other countries automating the system, our garbage collectors use to shout or hoot when collecting garbage. They don’t even use a speaker for calling. Isn’t it very primitive?
Are we going to stay as a 3rd World Country for the rest of our lives?
If you think recycling is an impossible and undesirable task, just remember there is a 7 year old boy in USA who has earned $20,000 in just 2 years only by recycling plastic bottles. Wayne Huizenga, well-known American businessman and entrepreneur became a billionaire staring with garbage collection.
Impact of Polythene / Plastic to living beings
It is recorded that Sri Lanka is ranked 5thin the world with regard to disposing garbage in the sea. This is a very serious issue even if we don’t see the impact. It is found that over 1 million of marine animals die from plastic every year. According to a research done on countries around the world that dump plastic and polythene waste into marine environment by International Business Times, over 13 million tons of non-recyclable wastes is dumped annually in to the sea, 80% of the waste was observed to be polythene and plastic from 20 countries including Sri Lanka.
We can’t just let go how these plastics and polythene kills our Coral Reefs. One of the main environmental issues in our country though. But unfortunately no one cares about it until next Tsunami hits Sri Lanka.
The impact and effectiveness of so calledSea Protection Laws need to be changed or not?
Researchers from Ghent University in Belgium found that fish prefer to eat plastic over food. More than 50 species of fish are more likely to eat plastic debris over their natural food. Further the researches predicted that every seafood lover could be eating up to 11,000 micro plastic particles each year. But they are yet to find the impact on our health, but for sure if the plastic levels increase so as the risk. As per the World Economic Forum, there will be more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050.
It is a surprise to know that plastic is also showing up in our own drinking water. Researchers from Orb Media tested samples of tap water from around the globe and found that almost every sample contaminated with Micro plastics. As per the study, an average of 80% of global tap water contaminated with plastic fibers. Scientists are yet to find the impact of these plastic fibers to the human body. But they confirmed micro fibers can easily absorb toxins than other substances and release it to the body once ingested. So the disaster is very real even we haven’t heard it before.
Super Market Scenario
One of the main reasons to increase Polythene usage is from our country’s Super Market channel. For sake of gaining greater customer satisfaction those super market executives separate each and every item with polythene bag. If someone buys 10 items, would carry 10 polythene bags. This has to be changed immediately.
Super markets have introduced thicker polythene (20 micron) bags for carriages considering those would be reused by customers. But unfortunately it has doubled the resin import and haven’t seen any reduction in waste. As per my knowledge people only feel the difference (the gesture) of new polythene bag instead of its use. It is a surprise even super market executives have no knowledge on newly introduced High Density polythene bags.
Simple ways to reduce polythene usage at Super Market level
- Educate customers on recycling and reusing by Expertise at the outlet itself (like they promote goods)
- Make a discipline ‘Carrying Your Own Bag’
- Discounting (as a percentage of final bill value) on bills when customers use their own Non-Polythene (cloth) bags
- Encourage customers to use re-usable cloth grocery bags and decline plastic bags
- Encourage to buying in bulk
- Encourage customers to buy reusable, rechargeable items
- Reduce issuing no. of polythene bags for item separation.
- Reduce polythene/plastic food packaging
- Increase beverages bottles in glass so can be reused
- Educate and encourage people to reduce eating processed foods (good for health as well as the environment since packaging comes only polythene)
- Educate and encourage people to make squeezed fresh juice or eat fruits than buying juices in bottles
- Encourage customers to return reusable containers (plastic bottles, ice-cream cups, etc…)
We need to use these type of Strategies until Going Green becomes a discipline in every citizen.