It is a matter with the attitudes of people. If they willingly adjust to consuming biodegradable products, this ban becomes necessarily meaningful.
The Chairman of the Central Environment Authority (CEA) Prof. Lal Mervin Dharmasiri in an interview with the Daily Mirror discussed the implementation of the ban of polythene and the progress it had made so far in society. Excerpts:
Q How would you view on the ban of polythene in terms of its legal aspect and social aspect?
A: First and foremost, it is my humble and honest feeling to say that the ban on plastic and polythene was a concept of Minister of Mahaweli Development and Environment, President Maithripala Sirisena himself. Then and there a lot of discussions and disputes were revolved around this topic. I should say that at the beginning, the Ministry suggested implementing regulations on the control of the use of polythene. But once the legal arena and a proper procedure were formulated, the discussions around the ban of selected polythene items such as lunch sheets, grocery bags and Styrofoam packages (Rigifoam lunch box) were commenced.
So far 11 weeks has passed since the ban of polythene was officially announced on September 1. Subsequently, it is evident that both the general public and polythene manufacturers have shown a positive response towards the ban of polythene.
We can’t ban polythene overnight but we need the assistance of the people of this country to make this a reality. Therefore, we hope that the general public would continue to extend their support...
Q How do you prove that people are interested in banning the selected items?
According to the survey conducted covering areas in the Western Province as urban area-Pettah, semi-urban- Battaramulla and rural-Bomiriya, 93% of the people of those areas are aware of the ban of polythene and 73% of the people are in favour of the ban, imposed on polythene.
We don’t recommend that this will be the overall estimation of the entire country. But this is only a rough estimate. We also notice that a substantial progress in polythene ban in society and in a special manner the polythene manufacturers have suggested that they were capable of replacing their existing products with biodegradable alternatives. Moreover, we have observed that some supermarkets have started to offer discounts if customers used renewable biodegradable bags when buying goods.
That will make the customers more interested in consuming biodegradable products.
Ihe budget has proposed to introduce a loan scheme system through Regional Development Banks for new entrepreneurs in order to motivate them to produce biodegradable polythene items.
QWhen it comes to the ban on polythene, it is a direct blow to the polythene manufacturers. What implications have been put forward to them?
We have negotiated with polythene manufactures in different perspectives as to how they should approach this issue. What the manufacturers were claiming was reasonable from their point of view. This is mainly because the time frame which has been provided to them to adapt to the new law is insufficient.
Consideration must also be given to the fact that the manufacturers and their families depend on the revenue generated through the production of polythene and items related to it.
The Government at this juncture should take productive and instant actions to address the issue. After the discussions held with them, we thought of extending the time period until January 1, 2018. Then, they were agreed to replace their existing products with bio-degradable, once the stock of banned items is finished.
On the other hand, the budget 2018 has proposed tax exemptions when importing machines and raw materials to produce biodegradable products and it has also proposed that the Government would bear 50% of the cost that is incurred when transforming the existing polythene manufacturing machines to the production of biodegradable items.
In addition, the budget has proposed to introduce a loan scheme system through Regional Development Banks for new entrepreneurs in order to motivate them to produce biodegradable polythene items.
QHas the Central Environment Authority (CEA) introduced substitutes to the market?
Yes. We have introduced to the market some bio-degradable products made up with grains, cloths, reeds, coir and cane. Even, some companies have volunteered to produce and promote bio-degradable material and release them to the market. The Polythene Manufacturers’ Association has agreed with resolutions proposed by the CEA.
We are pleased to say that some individuals have come up with some effective ideas as to produce biodegradable items using banana leaves, manioc, reeds, cans and coir materials etc. We have decided to promote their products once the standard of those products is certified. According to the Polythene Manufacturers’ Association, there are approximately 10,00 registered polythene manufactures in Sri Lanka. Therefore, we have initiated a new strategy to register them under the CEA so that new polythene manufactures, who would like to produce biodegradable products using any environmentally friendly products, can register under the CEA.
QHow will the laws on the ban of polythene be implemented?
According to the National Environmental Act, a 10,000-rupee fine and a two-year term of imprisonment will be imposed if found guilty of using banned polythene and plastic, when the ban becomes legally effective from January 1, 2018.
These laws are equally applicable to both manufacturers and consumers.
We have now totally banned the production of certain polythene items. Therefore, manufacturers are prohibited to produce banned polythene products anymore.
We have deployed a special board of officials to inspect the polythene manufacturing companies.
Furthermore, the authority to nab and fine lawbreakers are vested with the Police and the Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) and the Sri Lanka Standards Institution will conduct raids in respective areas.
At the same time, it is vital to mention that the ban on polythene should go beyond laws and regulations. It is a matter with the attitudes of people. If they willingly adjust to consuming biodegradable products, this ban becomes necessarily meaningful.
QDoes it mean that the imposition of laws on those who consume banned polythene is somewhat difficult?
No. It is not. What we suggest is that there should be a change in the mindset of the people in restricting the consumption of banned polythene products. Otherwise, it will limit to mere words. We don’t want to make this ban another step that will become fruitless.
Thus, it is indispensable to have an inner change from both polythene manufacturers and consumers.
Besides, we are affirmative that the new proposals mentioned above would encourage the polythene manufactures to adapt themselves to produce biodegradable products and would become an incentive for anyone who would wish to enter the polythene industry. With the tax concessions, the sellers will be able to release their products at affordable prices to the market so that consumers would tend to buy them. Therefore, we don’t intend that both manufacturers and consumers would struggle to adapt themselves to new biodegradable products.
QHow will the consumers distinguish biodegradable polythene products from banned items once the products are legally available in the market?
We in collaboration with the Consumer Affairs Authority and Sri Lanka Standards Institution have introduced a label that is to be printed on every biodegradable product so that the consumers are able to differentiate biodegradable polythene products from banned products.
Nevertheless, people should be mindful to buy only the products on which the accepted label is imprinted. We have planned to educate the general public through both printing and electronic media as to how they should recognise accepted products from fake products.
QPolythene is not only consumed when goods are bought. So, how about the use of polythene on other occasions apart from marketing?
It is a good question. We have banned the use of polythene in decorations at all events like parties, festivals and functions. In addition, prohibition of burning polythene and plastic in open places has been taken into account when implementing laws. People should be made clear that when the polythene stuff is accumulated at their residence, what they should do is that to segregate them appropriately so that the muck collectors at respective municipal councils could collect them with ease. People’s cooperation is desperately needed in making the ban on polythene a successful one.
QAt last, what is your opinion on the ban on polythene and the message that you need to convey to the general public?
I presume that imposing a ban on selected polythene products is an extremely topical and a crucial step was taken by the Government. Now, what is necessary is to put the ban into action and eliminate the use of polythene from society.
We can’t ban polythene overnight but we need the assistance of the people of this country to make this a reality. Therefore, we hope that the general public would continue to extend their support towards the endeavours and would make this country a