Sri Lanka bans single-use plastic following numerous wildlife deaths
20 Feb 2023 --- Sri Lanka is banning single-use plastic as announced by the government last week. The move follows a series of wild elephant and deer deaths from plastic poisoning. Cabinet spokesman and media minister, Bandula Gunawardana, says the manufacture or sale of plastic cutlery, cocktail shakers and artificial flowers will be prohibited from June this year.
The move was recommended by a panel appointed 18 months ago to study the impact of plastic waste on the environment and wildlife. Autopsies showed numerous animals had died after eating plastics mixed with food waste.
Although non-biodegradable plastic bags were banned in 2017 due to concerns over flash floods, local manufacture and sale of plastic products continued.
Sri Lanka’s top authority on Asian elephants, Jayantha Jayewardene, welcomed the move to stop single-use plastic but told global news agency AFP the ban should be extended to biodegradable plastic bags.
“These bags are getting into the food chain of elephants and wildlife and that is not a good thing,” he says.
Elephants are considered sacred and protected by law in Sri Lanka, but about 400 die a year due to human-elephant conflict near wildlife reserves, as do approximately 50 people.
Shrinking habitat has led to elephants raiding villages looking for food and many suffer agonizing deaths after foraging for food at dumps filled with plastic waste.
Dozens of wild deer died from plastic poisoning in the northeastern district of Trincomalee about five years ago, prompting the government to ban the open dumping of garbage near jungle reserves.
Environment and animal protection
Besides non-biodegradable plastic bags, the import of cutlery, cups and food packaging has also been banned since 2021. These measures have been taken to considerably reduce the spread of such waste in natural environments, home to a large diversity of wild animals.
Last year, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) launched an investigation into plastic pellet loss following Sri Lanka’s disaster last year in which billions of pellets spilled onto the island’s beaches. The UN agency took experts investigating how shipping accidents such as this one can be prevented in the future.
An IMO spokesperson told PackagingInsights the decision to begin looking into the issue began last year after “all delegations expressed support for measures that would reduce the environmental risk of plastic pellets transported by ship.” They stress that pollution resulting from the loss of such plastic pellets should be addressed as soon as possible.
More recently, French authorities started hunting the culprits of a recent mass plastic pellet spill off the coast of Brittany, which is believed to have come from a shipping container somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean.
Environmentalists say the pellets – also known as nurdles – have been appearing across the north-west French coastline since last year. Recovering the pellets entirely is said to be impossible as the quantity and area size is too large, according to Lionel Cheylus, spokesman of the Surfrider Foundation.
“When we talk about this pollution, we rarely focus on who is really behind it. Although companies have set up a system called Operation Clean Sweep, it is clear that the measures taken are ineffective,” Cheylus told PackagingInsights.
By Natalie Schwertheim
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