Sri Lanka announces ban on single-use plastics, effective June 2023

SRI LANKA – The government of Sri Lanka has announced plans to ban single-use plastic following 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 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, which is not a good thing,” he said.

Elephants are considered sacred and protected by law in Sri Lanka, but about 400 die a year as a result of human-elephant conflict near wildlife reserves, as do around 50 people.

Shrinking habitat has led to jumbos 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.

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 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.

According to an IMO spokesperson, the decision to investigate 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.

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