Plastic pollution menace needs immediate attention | Sunday Observer

Plastic pollution menace needs immediate attention

1 March, 2020

Plastic pollution has become one of the most pressing environmental issues due to the rapid increase in its worldwide production. This transpires in different forms such as accumulation of waste, accumulation of marine waste non-biodegradable fishing nets. In Sri Lanka, as the garbage collection and waste disposal systems are inefficient, recycling is not done effectively.

Recyclability decreases when plastic waste is not properly separated at the source as it mixes with organic or sanitary matter. Despite laws, rules, regulations and policies, polythene usage by the public has not shown a notable reduction. Plastic use is increasing gradually. However, the convenience offered by single use plastic products such as polythene bags, food wrappers, packaging, water bottles and many other products have led to a throw-away culture that reveals a dark side. Despite its expediency, plastic is destructive to the country’s eco system.

As per Government statistics, a staggering quantity of approximately 33,000 tons were imported to Sri Lanka, of which over 60 per cent was as raw material. Research has revealed that only 10 per cent of the total produced is being recycled worldwide as well as Sri Lanka. The improper disposal of plastics also harms water resources countrywide which directly and indirectly is damaging to human life.

Hazardous plastic chemicals contaminate water leading to far reaching consequences on aquatic life forms. When plastics are dumped in landfills, the hazardous chemicals present in them seep underground when it rains. The chemicals and toxic elements then infiltrate into the aquifer and pollute groundwater. Another risk is the air pollution by way of toxic emissions such as carbon monoxide, chlorine and nitrites generated by burning plastics.

It has been estimated that the country’s polythene demand was increased considerably during the past two decades with the rate of increase expected to rise further. Therefore, pollution level caused will also increase, affecting almost every sphere of the environment, including terrestrial as well as aquatic biome. Although the exact figure in Sri Lanka is not known, it was revealed that every year, about 8 million tons of plastic waste escapes into the oceans from coastal nations. That’s the equivalent of setting five garbage bags of trash on every foot of the coastline around the world.

Environmentalists reveal that Sri Lanka is among the first 10 countries which release plastic waste to the ocean. They say the Government’s involvement is inadequate to control the import of related material. According to them, the Government issues licences arbitrarily to importers without a proper study of the environmental impact as Sri Lanka Customs does not possess sufficient facilities to carry out such tests and is compelled to accept the importers’ information

President Rajapaksa, in his manifesto, has set forth important proposals and directives in this regard. Among them, a key factor is the mandatory waste sorting and separation for households and industries. The manifesto states that direct classroom education on the subject will be an integral component of the syllabus. The manifesto also refers to plastic pollution in coastal areas and marine environment, and promises an action plan to safeguard the oceans. In addition, President Rajapaksa has amply indicated his thinking on environmental issues on many occasions during public appearances. Given the wide use of plastic in our everyday lives, a complete ban would not be possible. However, the Government must consider at least, banning non recyclable plastics such as multi-layer and laminated plastics and nylon.

Besides the Ministry of Environment and Wildlife Resources, various public authorities such as the Central Environmental Authority, Sri Lanka Standards Institution and the Consumer Affairs Authority are available. Yet, the pertinent question is whether the Ministry and these other bodies have enforced their authority on the grave issue. If not, can the public know the reasons for their failure and what the future preparations are? While accepting the fact that these institutions often attempt to create some public awareness, the final outcome is not sufficient to counter the damage.

A senior official of the Central Environmental Authority said their foremost drawback is the collection of adequate plastic waste material for recycling. According to the official there are about 120 recycling plants in Sri Lanka managed by state and private sector institutions. The prevailing trend in most urban areas is that domestic waste is segregated on the strict instructions of the local authorities. This is a positive outlook she said, adding that the plastic waste issue would be a major problem in the future and needs prompt attention.

The country must collectively assist the relevant authorities to minimize the damage caused by plastics. Every citizen must be aware of the future threats of plastic and be disciplined to reduce usage. At least four common methods are identified to deal with this menace. Strictly, reduce using plastic unless it is absolutely necessary; reuse it repeatedly if possible; assist the authorities to recycle plastic by separating and segregating when disposing; and finally educate others to reduce usage. Increase awareness through public programs and classroom education, targeting an attitude and behavioural change.