25 September, 2018

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Why Should The Technicalities Of The Plastic Bag Ban Continue To Concern The Masses?

By Piyumani Ranasinghe

Piyumani Ranasinghe

Improving the common man’s knowledge on the ban on polythene in Sri Lanka is a critical juncture that requires most of the investment in ensuring that the momentum of the ban does not dissipate. Even if ignorance is considered bliss, the quintessential element of successful enforcement of any environment regulation requires regular awareness. Hence, the prevailing command and control mechanisms in addition to all market based approaches require the enlightenment of the consumer with regard to the current ban, which in the books of environmental policy making is considered, making a partial ban on destructive plastic actually work. In this regard, it is vital to reiterate the origins of the ban in Sri Lanka at the wake of the Meetotamulla garbage dump tragedy. Even as you read this, garbage is being piled up, either legally or illegally in a landfill somewhere close to your neighborhood. Thus, the partial ban that is enforced currently ought to be considered a plausible way forward towards a complete ban on the destructive polythene bag, which is not only an action point in achieving the sustainable developmental goals as a nation, but also vital in resolving the persisting solid waste management crisis in the island.

What exactly is prohibited?

In terms of polythene products, the ban on polythene currently covers, the manufacture, sale, offer for sale or free of charge, exhibition and the use of polythene or any product of polythene that is 20 microns or below in thickness (GN 2034/33). In addition to that, it also bans the manufacture, sale, exhibition and the use of polythene food wrappers commonly known as lunch sheets (GN 2034/34). In fact, the Gazette notification 2034/34 is inclusive of both high and low density polyethylene alongside polypropylene which was used as raw material in the production of the said food wrappers in the past. Instead, compostable lunch sheets are an alternative available in the Sri Lankan market today. Biodegradability of these plastics are due to the fact that the products are manufactured amalgamating raw materials such as Corn Starch, Poly Lactic Acid (PLA) and Poly Butylene Adipate-co-Terephthalate (PBAT) that have been specifically engineered to facilitate the process of biodegradation and compostability, based on scientific tests run as per the EN13432 standard, which is a standard recognized in the European Union that defines the criteria compostable packaging has to meet.

Grocery bags manufactured from high density polyethylene is also prohibited under the current ban alongside (GN 2034/35), the use of all forms of polythene, polypropylene and polyethylene as decorations in political, social, religious, national or cultural occasions are also banned (GN 2034/37). Importantly, the manufacture, sale and the use of lunch boxes, plates, cups, spoons from expanded polystyrene (commonly known as rigifoam) is also prohibited (GN 2034/38).

Importantly, activities varying from regular use, manufacture, sale, giving for free, exhibition, use in decorations to open burning of refuse and other combustible material inclusive of plastic (GN 2034/36) is prohibited under the current ban; rendering all aforementioned activities punishable offences in the Republic of Sri Lanka, which will result in a Rs. 10,000 fine alongside 2 years of imprisonment.

Factors affecting Compliance to the Ban

The factors affecting the compliance of the polythene ban is distinct according to the consumer and retailer. In terms of the consumer, the primary factor at the face of compliance is the level of enforcement of the ban, according to Lane and Potter (2007). For example, in Gupta (2011) notes that, irrespective of the production, distribution and use of plastic bags ban in Bangladesh, violations of the regulation are common. Cost is also a factor that determines compliance with the regulations on the part of the consumer. Consumers often prefer cost-free bags that can be used conveniently. Convenience can depend on various cultural factors as well as the individual choice on the consumer. However, as stressed by Winter and May (2001), awareness of the ban and its consequences is a predominant factor in terms of compliance. Additionally, factors such as education, age as well as something as general as attitudes of the consumer can affect compliance. It should be understood that motivation primarily defines compliance (Becker, 1968). In Sri Lanka, awareness is a key issue in ensuring ban compliance. According to Environmental Foundation Limited (EFL), consumer identification of banned items is a crucial problem, even for a person who’s willing to adapt. Hence, the public outreach in terms of awareness in identifying biodegradable or compostable plastics is an indispensable step that can be taken up by the Central Environmental Agency (CEA), considering it a priority.

The retailer on the other hand is interlinked to the policy making process itself and has the ability to strike a balance between the public interest of the environmental regulation as well as other market oriented interests. For example, the retailers can benefit by reducing the cost of procuring polythene bags and profit by selling reusable or compostable bags. This is currently a practice being adopted by Supermarkets of Sri Lanka, where in certain cases compostable bags are sold at Rs.1.50 each. However, it is also vital to ensure that small scale retailers have sufficient means of adhering to the regulations. Moreover, purchasing compostable bags can be an inconvenient and unnecessary cost in the consumer’s eye. Thus, the CEA should enable certain mechanisms that balance both the interests of the consumer and the retailer in ensuring the smooth transition to eco-friendly alternatives, which is in return fundamental to ban compliance. Awareness is positively correlated to compliance in terms of the retailer as well. Compliance in terms of retailers largely bounces between the costs incurred and the risk of being caught (Bishal, 2016). 

The Way Forward: Making Recycling a Routine?

Lying on the said dynamics, the current ban, irrespective of its issues concerning enforcement efficacy is arguably an environmentally sound step taken in terms of managing the inland solid waste management crisis, which continue to linger at every dusk and dawn. The real struggle lies in the shift towards sustainable means and methods of sufficing the purpose of a single-use polythene bag or lunch sheet that is such a common place consumer essential. A fundamental issue also lies in disposing the types of polythene that isn’t covered by the polythene ban, given that recycling is not part and parcel of the everyday routine of an average Sri Lankan. EFL noted that low density polythene bags are continuously used by businesses given that it is not listed in the current ban on polythene. The problem is that these bags are equally destructive if disposed irresponsibly even if they are comparatively easy to recycle. CEA’s National Post-consumer Plastic Waste Management programme was recently launched where a tax on plastic imports is being used to help fund the collection and recycling of the waste. According to EFL, the imports of plastic raw materials surpass over 150,000 tonnes each month; and hence, the programme initiated by CEA encourages the masses to segregate the plastic in order to collect and send for recycling. In fact, information on 120 plastic and polythene recyclers based across the country can be located on the website of this programme. However, similar to the ban, developing a routine of recycling is equally dependent on various factors amongst which, motivation is at the crux. Institutional as well as individual incentive towards the cause is of fundamental importance in this regard.

*Piyumani Ranasinghe is a graduate of International Relations from the University of London. She is currently reading for her LL.B. degree at the University of Peradeniya

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  • 2
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    Piyumani: YOur articlee has lot of wrong thibgs. Read the followinng article in the web. Toxic effects of polyethylene terephthalate microparticles and Di(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate on the calanoid copepod, Parvocalanus crassirostris.[ Ecotoxicol Environ Saf. 2017 Jul;141:298-305. doi: 10.1016/j.ecoenv.2017.03.029. Epub 2017 Apr 6. ]. There is no biodregradation of Plastics. No where in the world, Bacteria degrading plzastics are repoerted. Terapthathalate becuse of sunlight over the time can break down into small microspheres. That can mis with ground water and rqain water and affect fish, shripas and all the animals living water. Besides, how about Cattle eating what is left on the ground. Plastic is a problem on the for so manhy reasons. Here, where people take very educated decisions, writers are not writing stupid articles, even then plastic usage is restricted. People are given options such as bringing their own bags, useing gunny bags, or paper bags which are biodegredable and reuseable. In Sri lanka, politicians misleading public for commis, Manufacturers are exploiting politicians as well as public just for money. there is so much carnage in the sountry simplty beczause of profits. Instead of read about other toxic effects of terapthalate. Even clean watger in plastic bottles are insafe. Because, even though they poly-chemicals, there are single molescules in the plastic content. The result will be leaching those chimeclas to to the food, water, to the groud ans cayse huan problems. Affecting genetics, and reproduction are very common. Besides, I am very disappointed with your articles. I categorize all these writers are those who studied in International schools. They can write articles in english, but, their knowledge is pathetic. Why would you want to quote two people talked in some corneer in the world as some thing very inportant. Whhy di dnot you survey the users of plastic bAGS, CONTAINERS, MANUFACTURERS, OTHER OPINIONATED PEOPLE ETC.

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      Dear JS Good points. I agree we need to publish this type of articles in local languages where masses can understand.

      This is why I think there should be regular town hall type of meeting in all the locality to discuss environmental type of issues and how the masses can help them self dealing with these issues too. May be a University/College students can create an organisation called “Tidy Sri Lanka” environmental group and help/advise on how to manage waste/avoid crating waste etc.

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    The Answer is to Educate the Public with Commercials on Plastic Bags and Containers, during Peak TV viewing Hours.

    Local Government Bodies should also provide Covered Bins designated for Plastics, with regular Collection times.

    School Children are the best targets for Plastic Education, as they absorb new Concepts faster than Adults with Careless Ingrained Habits.

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    Dear Piyumani Ranasinghe,
    .
    Part One
    .
    I was overjoyed to see your article; common sense seems to tell me that this is one of the most formidable problems facing the planet, and therefore, our country. I know nothing of Chemistry beyond my O. Level syllabus. I did sit in an A. Level chemistry class for two years but I had lost interest in Science, and Chemistry in particular seemed to me a lot of cramming of unrelated formulae. I think that the teacher was good, but students didn’t seem to UNDERSTAND; they seemed intent on passing exams. And that was fifty years ago.
    .
    What I expected to find in your article, and didn’t, is the sort of information given here:
    .
    http://naturalsociety.com/recycling-symbols-numbers-plastic-bottles-meaning/
    .
    I’m very glad that you have written this article, and I hope that you will respond to some of the queries that I will make of you. I cannot write much more now. Right now, I see two responses to your article, the first by Jim softy who comments on all subjects under the sun. I’m afraid that for once he talks sense; your paper is far too academic.
    .
    Hamlet’s suggestions are excellent, and yes, we must ALL co-operate with the Local Government Bodies. Separate the garbage etc. But it just doesn’t get done because few seem to know what gets done to the stuff we hand over. Public affairs at all levels is dominated by politicians. This should not be, but people like you, Piyumani, who should be calling the shots, are not talking at a level that I can understand. I will get more specific later.

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    Piyumani,
    .
    Part Two

    I had read some time ago that even Yoghurt cans can be re-cycled provided they are clean. There now is drinking yoghurt, and even fruit drinks, where for every one part of plastic, there are only three parts (by volume) of contents. I never buy them. I buy only kilo cans of yoghurt, and I have hundreds of clean, washed cans/cartons or whatever one calls them. Plastic collectors come. They look illiterate labourers (I hope that doesn’t sound nasty!) but they tell me with all-knowing certainty that those are not plastics. I show them the Recycling Number 5: they think I’m mad. Pelwatte butter comes in very sturdy looking plastic containers, but with no re-cycling number. Again, I’ve got hundreds. If given to garbage what happens to them?
    .
    And, there are all the lithium batteries that we must be now discarding; millions of cell phones even in this country. The mobile telephone operators invite you to drop all your old stuff there, but the employees have no idea where they END up.
    .
    I’m intrigued at hearing that you are studying law at Peradeniya. I didn’t know that the University again has a Law Faculty there. I know that Gamini Lakshman Peiris did his LlB there, but that was long before my time.
    .
    The last few days, I’ve been busy commenting on the Arts Faculty there:
    .
    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/ashley-and-me/
    .
    You have just two days more to comment. A University was meant to make specialists in one field aware of what sort of guys were specialising in other fields. That is only possible in a residential campus like Peradeniya.

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    Biodegradability is one issue with plastic bags, and that seems to have been addressed.
    *
    But the use of plastic bags poses other problems relating to their disposal leading to blocking of drains and canals, consumption by animals etc.
    *
    We are too used to easy answers.
    The use of plastics has to be minimised or even eliminated where possible.
    The fundamental problem is with consumerism. Nobody even talks about it. One cannot address issues of environment in isolation.
    Third World consumerism lacks even the small degree of socio-environmental awareness that one sees in Europe.

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    Dear Prof. SJ,
    .
    Yes, you are the sort of person who ought to be commenting on an issue like this. There can be no doubt that our consumerism is what is to blame. It horrifies me how prodigal I am compared with my father, in particular.
    .
    And the younger generation is just terrible. I’d like to think that my own children are not among the worst, but this is not an area in which we should be congratulating ourselves. Rather we should be trying to see how we can all contribute towards changing attitudes. I have greater awareness than average, but your knowledge, Prof. SJ, is stupendous.
    .
    Of course we are all elderly (see how I avoid saying old!) , so we have to encourage much younger people to take the lead. I wish the political volatility that exists at present goes away so that people can focus on these much more important issues.

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    Plastic bottles are not good. the reason is plastic are not completely polimerized. so, there can be single molecules which can leach to the medium for example water and that affects the health of the person who com=nsumes from that bottle. Read ther following WHO article about Vinyl chloride which is carcinogenic. WAter pipes uses PVC. http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/dwq/chemicals/vinylchloride.pdf. IF you search there are many articles, mostly in environmental and work place safety related journals.

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    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2769161/. Read the following article about biodegradable plastics. thsoe are not what we use in the market. All other plastics are degraded by UV and sunlight.

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    ” Why should the technicalities of the plastic bags ban continue to concern the masses ..? “
    The masses are asses …Dudley Sirisena …

  • 2
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    Thank you Piyumani Ranasinghe for pointing out the menace of indiscriminate use of plastics. Consumerism is evil. Plastics have become a tool to this addiction.
    Piyumani: Please start a ” Stop indiscriminate of plastics movement”
    Unfortunately our politicians are busy making dollars by various means – they have no time to think about it.

  • 0
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    Thank you Ms Ranasinghe for the topic analysed to give us the GOSL efforts and the codes and standards that has been used to the bench marking on what plastic is what. You have also touched based with the difficulty average people face in making a conscious choice and what is available to them at the “sale/purchase point” be it precooked food and other food packaging or general shopping.

    You have also catured “lag time” in getting the “manufacturing to consumer” supply chains to adopt to the guidelines as well the solid waste management dilemmas as well as funding issues.

    While we await for this to filter through the damage done already being computed by ever so increasing challenges in solid waste management. It is hard enough for a developed countries then for “us” is impossible for many “reasons” I would rather not get into etc.

    Whilst we await for those “reasons” to find the solutions so we could focus on issues really matters to human well being could we focus on using organic materials such as banana leafs or any other suitable material available abidance to line the cooked food so are not exposed to the toxic elements (could seep into the food) etc. Many asians countries such as Thailand/India use and support their local/rural areas by using many creative/disposable materials for food packaging/serving food etc. Even at the air ports – these are very progressive thoughts promote/PR for the country too. We should slap promote complete making from the waste collection of the organic material will go a long way towards efficient solid waste management as a starter.

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