Polythene ban draws mixed reactions

There were mixed reactions by Sri Lankans over the ban announced last week on polythene, lunch sheets and rigifoam boxes, that will come into effect from September this year with the packaging industry and others voicing their concern.

When the Sunday Observer spoke to a cross section of people to find out what they felt about the ruling, some industrialists said, with the ban that would come into effect, polythene, lunch sheets and rigiform boxes will not be available as packing material, any more.

Affected

The ban in a way is good and in a way, it is bad. The outlook of the ban seems good. However, you have to consider from the point of view of the parties affected by the ban, Sri Lanka Institute of Packaging Secretary, Upul Abeywardena said.

“The ban will definitely affect the small business sector who manufactures these products, using small machines. Some purchase these products on bulk and sell them at retail. The people who sell lunch packets will be affected too”, he said.

“What is the solution to this? We are a fast developing country. We should be able to find a solution for waste disposal, with the government and the private sector involvement. The majority of our people are educated. We need to find a solution to the problem before the ban comes into effect,” he said.

It is not possible to completely eliminate the use of polythene as we have got used to the packaging and the display. Society cannot move forward, and therefore it needs consideration, he said.

“There are advantages and disadvantages of banning polythene. We need to get examples from countries such as, Singapore, on how they dispose waste. Though polythene is a non-degradable item, its use is immense,” he said.

Another entrepreneur claimed, the decision will affect the country’s packaging industry which output now matches any imported packaging material, in respect of quality. All manufacturing industries do recognize packaging as an important, cost cutting issue in any product development endeavour. Goods manufactured here could now reach distant local and international markets, intact, with an unblemished quality, due to high quality packaging, with the development of the local packaging industry.

Be it tea, garment or any other product, almost all exports from Sri Lanka are packed in packaging material produced in the country.

Businessmen say, the growth of the Sri Lankan packaging industry over the past two decades has been phenomenal and the value of its output now represents 3 to 5 percent of the country’s GDP. Local packaging developers gain regional and international accolades every year for the creativity of their designs. The prestigious Asia Stars and World Stars won by them every year exemplify the originality of their package designs.

Two housewives, giving vent to their feelings on the impact of such a ban, spoke about the difficulties they would face. “I would find it hard without the lunch sheet which I have got used to. However, from September I have to pack lunch in lunch boxes to adhere to the ban. Initially, there will be an additional cost, but with time it would be resolved, I believe. I only have to purchase a lunch box and a cloth serviette to enable the lunch to be packed well,” Shrimathie Perera said.

When asked about the positive and favourable impact that such a ban would bring about, an officer at a mercantile firm said, he totally agreed with the imposing of the ban since it would herald a clean environment, locally and internationally. The only thing he regretted was that there is no alternative suggested when the ban comes into effect, since many people are totally dependent on polythene due to its strength, versatility and feather weight.

One of those interviewed, who has a spacious garden with lots of banana trees said, she would use the leaves to pack lunch.

“I have excess banana trees in my garden and I will make maximum use of the leaves when it comes to packing lunch. It is convenient and safe to use banana leaves and every day a fresh leaf could be used,” Anoma Wijedasa said.

Further explaining the use of polythene as a packaging material, Abeywardena said, the customers will not be attracted to a product that has no packaging and a display of the expiry date, shelf life, hygienic value and facilitate transportation. The information on the product is necessary and this is how the customers select their purchase, he said.

Whatever you pack would be safe and last for some time, he said.

The only problem is waste management. I cannot understand how the government is going to substitute the banned items, he said.

Gauge

The alternative use of polythene should be 21 microne and above, and there should be a minimum gauge. This is not the time to ban polythene which is used in every aspect of life, Packaging Development Centre President, Dharmathilake Ratnayake said.

“The cheapest and the easiest is the lunch sheet when it comes to packaging, and banning lunch sheets is a big blow to the industrialists. The government needs to find a solution before banning this and I am against the ban,” he said.

“We could recycle all the polythene materials and make an income out of it. The producers who have machinery to produce polythene will be hit in a big way,” he said.

“We would have to incur additional expense, which would be a drain in foreign exchange when we have to import different types of bags. However, if we could use recycled bags or cloth bags the problem could be solved to some extent, he said.

Ratnayake appeals to the authorities to slow the banning process and first to find a permanent solution. A gradual control could be exercised and thereafter, controlling and monitoring could be done regularly to ascertain the situation, he said.


Polythene prohibition

Last week the Sri Lankan government proposed implementing a set of short term, medium term and long term measures to minimize the use of polythene in order to encounter the impact of disposing such items on the environment.

The Central Environment Authority (CEA) said, the use, production, import and sale of polythene lunch sheets and shopping bags, and rigifoam items would be banned under the new regulation.

The short term measures proposed include:

= Prohibition of polythene use for decorations in all events

= Implement the prevailing regulations for prohibition of use, sale and production of polythene equals or less than 20 microns.

= Allow use of polythene less than 20 microns for essential activities only, with the approval of the Central Environmental Authority

= Prohibition of sale, importation and production of polythene lunch sheets

= Prohibition of sale, importation and production of containers, plates, cups, spoons made using polystyrene

= Prohibition of sale of processed or cooked meals packed in polythene containers

= Promotion of providing paper, cloth or reed bags or biologically degradable plastics for customers when purchasing items in stores

= Prohibition of burning polythene and plastic in open places

= Introduction and promotion of biologically degradable polythene and plastics

Points were also made on the provision of tax concessions in the importation of machinery used in biologically degradable plastic productions and imposing a cess tax of 15% on importation of plastic raw material and goods.


The ban in India…

India’s capital city Delhi, introduced a ban on disposable plastic early this year where cutlery, bags, cups and other forms of single-use plastic were prohibited by the National Green Tribunal (NGT).

There was concern about the amount of plastic waste it produces. The ban affects the whole National Capital Territory (NCT) area of Delhi, a report said.

The ban was introduced after complaints about the illegal mass burning of plastic and other waste at three local rubbish dumps, which was blamed for causing air pollution. The sites are supposed to operate as waste-to-energy plants.

The Tribunal said in a statement: “Each of these sites is a depiction of the mess that can be created to the environment and the health of the people of Delhi.

“The Delhi government shall take steps for storage and use of plastic materials.”

“All the corporations … and other public authorities, including NCT of Delhi, are directed to take immediate steps for reduction and utilization of dumped waste,” the Tribunal added. 

 

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