Earth Day 2018 fell on Sunday the 22nd of April. This year’s theme of “End Plastic Pollution on Earth Day and beyond!” date serves as a grim reminder that everyone single one of us have a moral imperative to take significant positive action toward ridding the world of plastics.
Sri Lanka as a nation must step forward and respond to the mismanagement of plastic pollutants affecting marine life surrounding the island. Environment Foundation Limited (EFL) states Sri Lanka generates 7,000MT of solid waste per day with the Western Province accounting for nearly 60% of waste generation. Each person generates an average of 1-0.4kg of waste per day, yet only half of the waste is collected. Each of us needs to ask ourselves the question “What happens to the rest of it?” Over 13 million tons of non-recyclable waste is dumped annually into the oceans and 80% of that waste comes from plastic.
According to The World Economic Forum, 32% of the 78 million tons of plastic packaging produced annually is left to flow into the oceans; the equivalent of pouring one garbage truck of plastic into the ocean every minute. By 2050 there could be more plastic waste in the oceans than fish. As waste and plastic is dumped into the oceans, sea life gets poisoned by toxins — this makes it extremely dangerous for humans as we consume the seafood that have absorbed all the toxic plastic debris from the water. To an island like Sri Lanka, this can mean dangerous shifts in our ecosystems, including health risks associated with the polluted water and seafood people consume.
Given the tragic incident at Meethotamulla, where 30 people lost their lives due to improper waste management, it is imperative that the country identify proper solutions to prevent incidents like this from happening in the future. With an ineffective waste system across the island, the majority of the plastic waste gets dumped into the oceans, either from canals or seaside residents with nowhere to dispose their plastic bottles or wrappers. Approximately 14.6 million people reside near Sri Lanka’s coastline, with proper education and management systems in place, residents of the area can recycle their waste and can be taught how to reuse the plastic already in their possession to reduce the amount of new plastic used.
Sri Lanka has already made strides in reducing the use of plastic island wide, including prohibiting the sale and use of polythene and any polythene products below 20 microns in thickness. But will this change be enough in eliminating the plastic waste dumped into the oceans? Small steps to change behavior comes through education and reminders on how and where to recycle plastic material, including ease of access to dustbins and recycling centers to make it easier for people to dump their plastic instead of resorting to tossing it into the sea.
But moreover core to the issue at heart is the need for a regular, monitored and effective garbage collection system by the state and local authorities. Many Municipalities demonstrate the usual red tape, lethargy and inaction expected to be found in public authorities island wide, when it comes to the collection and disposal of the waste. Proper and systematic monitoring of garbage collection and strict accountability of the bodies failing to carrying out those duties is an every pressing need.
But this Earth Day let’s call on all citizens to pledge to mitigate the use of plastic and to find innovative ways to recycle polythene to reduce the impact on the environment.
Sri Lanka has long been referred to as the ‘Paradise Isle’… let's make it a Plastic Free one.
Sanith de Silva Wijeyeratne
Chief Executive Officer
The Carbon Consulting Company.