Banned Plastics still rule | Sunday Observer

Banned Plastics still rule

Central Environmental Authority officials and health sources have expressed dismay at the presence of banned plastic items floating around the country despite repeated warnings to illegal vendors and manufacturers to stop producing and distributing them to the local public. “ Although the amount is less than in previous years, there still is a lot of banned plastics, especially, in densely populated areas,” Chief Food Inspector, Colombo Municipal Council , Lal Kumar told the Sunday Observer. He said, while hotels and posh restaurants had more or less fallen in line with the decision to stop serving customers in polystyrene boxes, the majority of wayside eateries continued serving customers using low quality lunch sheets wrapped in newspapers or takeaways in polystyrene boxes.

“ Our inspectors have so far warned over 200 mobile carts and wayside eateries in the Pettah, and Fort, especially, where they operate near bus and railway stations and also requested owners of soup carts (kola kende and sow kende) to use degradable cups instead of serving the hot soups into plastic bags which can lead to several health risks”, he said.

Commenting on the sharp rise in the number of small eateries operating in environmentally unhealthy narrow alleys, which are home to dogs and cats, in the Pettah, and Maradana, he said, these were heavily patronised by low income office workers who could not afford the more pricey lunch packets which were the preferred choice of their colleagues with a higher income”.

So what action has the CMC under whose purview they come, taken to rectify this unhealthy situation? We asked. Was closing down the businesses of these small time entrepreneurs the solution?

No, says Lal Kumar. Instead, our Public Health Chief Dr Ruwan Wijemnuni asked us to start some programs to educate them on how to prepare healthy street food as they do in countries like China and Singapore”, he said.” We hope to start these programs early next year”.

Legal vs Illegal plastic manufacturing companies

At present, while the number of legally approved plastic manufacturing companies in Sri Lanka have been identified, the main problem lies with the large number of illegal companies that have mushroomed everywhere without any sanction or approval of the CEA.

What was the CEA’s response to this? Did they plan to take punitive action against them in the near future? We asked CEA Chairman Dr Mervyn Lal Jayakody.

“We will first start with the factories that produce plastic items such as, lunch sheets and shopping bags (sili sili bags) .

There are over 300 such factories that we know of. Starting January next year, we will be sending our officers to visit them and make on site reports on the kind of material being used , the machines used , environment in which they operate, etc. We hope to begin with the Western Province and later send our teams to other districts as well”, he said.

“ Were these owners given prior warning or notice on such pending visits”?

“ They asked the President to give them some time to get rid of existing stocks. The limited period to do so is now over. Any factory owner found not toeing the line will be penalized”, he said.

Register

He said, it was the responsibility of the Director Waste Management to keep him informed of any factory which violated the decision to halt high density plastic production. “ We can then take action. The public too can email us or write to the Director Waste Management, CEA, Battaramulla tel 0112882335 “. We have also introduced a new clause that all new plastic producing companies should hereafter register with the CEA. They have already been informed through our advertisements in the media in all three languages, as well as on our web site: www.cea.lk.”

Views of private plastic packaging companies

In January, this year, a news item captioned, ‘compostable biodegradable lunch sheets, bags, solution to polythene issue’ drew attention to the response from some leading private manufacturers. Agreeing with the proposal by the CEA to increase the thickness of the currently used 20 microns, as an environmentally healthy gesture, Chairman Plastic Packaging Pvt Ltd, Mervyn Dias reportedly noted that the decision to rush this proposal would badly affect the industry, adding that for the public to switch to compostable products, they should also have a choice . Or go back to using traditional products such as, banana leaves or rattan baskets.

Average consumption of plastics in S.L

According to a study, prior to the ban of low quality plastic, the average daily consumption of lunch sheets in Sri Lanka is over 1 million. “Most of these are difficult to re-cycle as they are soiled with oily food and are far too many to be collected on a daily basis”.

While the problem has now been greatly reduced with daily garbage collections in many dengue high risk areas, along with the encouraging response from the public regarding biodegradable polythene, an artificial shortage of the latter products seems to have forced most householders to use the black garbage bags which continue to line the streets. CEA sources said a new law was now in force with penalties against those who litter or dump their garbage on private streets and lanes.

Polystyrene products

What about polystyrene boxes that continue to adorn the shelves of restaurants? “This is definitely illegal as we have already informed the manufacturing companies that although they could continue to produce them for export purposes, they must not be sold in the local market. Anyone caught doing this will be severely penalized”, he warned.

Public

On public response, he said, it was “ Very good. We recently did an islandwide survey and found that over 95 % have accepted the President’s initiative since they know it is for their own good, and no one is harmed as a result. However, we urge the public to select only lunch sheets, bags etc that have the Sri Lanka Standards Institute ( SLSI) approval and to opt for low density biodegradable plastics. They should recycle these as much as possible in order to minimize plastic circulation in the environment”.

Health impacts

“The use of plastics in our daily lives is a necessary evil of modern life.. However, we need to mitigate the health risks caused by them”, warned former Head, National Poisons Information Unit, National Hospital, Dr Waruna Gunethilleke. He said, all plastics were not the same, and the severity of the toxicity of each type of plastic varied. “Banning of the use of shopping bags, take away polystyrene containers and lunch sheets is a significant initiative as these have considerable health impacts on the health of Lankans”..

He further charged that several small time food vendors were continuing to sell cooked food in plastic bags . “Beware of those little green and red bags into which these mobile cart vendors pour hot gravy, tea or soup . This can be very toxic as the chemicals leach out into the bags . Used over time it can cause cancer, and affect the foetus of pregnant women. Don’t use ice cream boxes to store food or to microwave your food as the toxic elements can leach out on contact with heat.. Instead, use food grade boxes which can be microwaved as well. Or card board boxes. And don’t ”make the mistake of burning plastics in your backyard as this too can have harmful effects on your heath”, he warned.

Solution : Collective effort by all

As Dr Gunathileke points out, “ indiscriminate plastic usage is mostly an issue in South Asian countries . In the West there are strict laws that forbid the use of plastics and styrofoam boxes and a mechanism to monitor them” He observed that while the decision by the President is definitely a step forward, the most important thing is to ensure that this effort is sustained. For that we need the collective co-operation of all – from the stakeholders to the public as the Health Ministry and government alone cannot undertake this task”, he emphasized.

Meanwhile anti plastic activists have welcomed the President’s call to the CEA to ensure that no polythene is used for posters or leaflets in the upcoming local government elections..” It is a most welcome move as it is difficult for our inspectors to collect these polythene posters and get rid of them, especially, with the rains now on”, a PHI said. 

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