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Ban on more disposable, single-use plastic products: Disposing of a longstanding environmental issue?

  • 5.9% of daily solid waste collected consists of plastic and polythene
  • Certain bans proposed to be effective in 2022; others in 2023

By Yumiko Perera

The cabinet memorandum proposing the ban of several single-use and disposable plastic and polythene products, which was submitted last week by the Minister of Environment, states that certain aspects of the ban are to come into effect in 2022 and others in 2023, in order to give manufacturers ample time to adjust, The Sunday Morning learnt.

The list of products includes plastic straws; plastic cutlery such as spoons, forks, and knives; string hopper mats; garlands made of plastic and polythene; and several other products that have been deemed unnecessary and that significantly contribute to the plastic and polythene waste the country produces.

The Ministry of Environment took measures to ban five single-use plastic and polythene products back in March, which included non-medical cotton buds and sachet packets. Meanwhile, a ban on non-degradable lunch sheets was also brought into effect from 1 August this year.

Speaking with The Sunday Morning, Central Environmental Authority (CEA) Chairman Siripala Amarasinghe stated that seven different plastic and polythene products are proposed to be banned.

“Some of these products include plastic drinking straws and swizzle sticks, which are stirrers used to stir drinks. Plastic cutlery such as spoons, knives, and forks, along with plastic string hopper mats and artificial grass covers, are also proposed to be banned,” he noted.

However, as learnt by The Sunday Morning, there would be a limited ban on the use of artificial grass cover mats, as its use will be permitted for indoor playgrounds, etc.

Amarasinghe added that the use of garlands made of plastic and polythene materials is also proposed to be banned.

“Oftentimes, if a box of incense sticks contains 25 sticks, there are five plastic packets of five sticks in the box. So, in order to discourage the use of plastic for unnecessary purposes such as this, we have proposed the ban,” he added.

Furthermore, Amarasinghe also noted that the use of grocery bags made out of polythene is also discouraged. As such, they would have to maintain certain criteria when it comes to the production of grocery bags made out of plastic and polythene.

“There are two types of grocery bags in this context – ones with handles and ones without. However, grocery bags made of plastic and polythene must be 12 inches long, five inches broad, and 10 inches wide,” Amarasinghe elaborated.

While it is estimated that Sri Lanka releases approximately two billion polythene bags into the environment annually, according to the Ministry of Environment, the ban of seven other single-use plastic and polythene products was taken in view of the serious environmental and health threats posed due to this.

Meanwhile, approximately 5.9% of the daily solid waste collected consists of polythene and plastic waste, which totals 400 tonnes, The Sunday Morning learnt.

Although products such as plastic cutlery and drinking straws may seem harmless at first glance, these modern conveniences are ubiquitous and play a very big hand in the amount of plastic waste that would eventually end up in drinking water sources as well as the oceans.

Moreover, our reliance on these plastics significantly contributes to the accumulation of plastic waste at a staggering rate, causing an unimaginable level of destruction.

Elaborating that “greener” measures must be adopted whilst dealing with plastic waste in the country, Amarasinghe noted that the proposed ban on the aforementioned plastic products is expected to be brought into effect in 2023, adding that manufacturers have been given more than enough time to adopt environmentally friendly packaging and service ware in the meantime.

“In accordance with the previous ban on sachets and other similar packaging, stringent legal action was taken against those who continued to manufacture these products regardless of the ban. Likewise, there were several instances where we had cancelled permits and so on. We aim to reduce the use of plastic products as much as we can, while giving manufacturers the option of opting for greener methods,” Amarasinghe noted in conclusion.

Meanwhile, speaking to The Sunday Morning, Minister of Environment Mahinda Amaraweera, reiterating that the reduction of plastic use remains one of the Ministry’s topmost priorities, highlighted that the proposed ban would be implemented soon.

“Certain aspects of the proposed ban of these plastic products are to be implemented in 2022 and then some in 2023. However, we will be having a press briefing in this regard in the upcoming week,” the Minister noted.