The Government has decided to ban the use of polythene and rigifoam from September as one of the measures to reduce the quantity of garbage countrywide and as a measure to protect the environment. The short notice for the implementation of the polythene and rigiform ban by the government might have been prompted by the garbage crisis that erupted following the collapse of the 300-foot Meethotamulla garbage mountain on National New Year’s Day this year and the unprecedented spread of dengue.
Needless to say that the garbage issue has turned into a crisis mainly because of the use of polythene, cellophane, rigifoam, plastic and other non-decomposable material and the improper methods used to dispose them by the people. However, finding a direct link between the garbage crisis and this year’s unprecedented increase in the number of dengue patients might not be an easy task.
Never before has the number of dengue patients exceeded the 50,000 mark. However, for the past seven months this year the number had gone past 100,000 and shows no signs of receding or reducing. It is clear that the increase in non-decomposable trash does not correspond with the unprecedented increase in the number of dengue patients, in spite of discarded non-decomposable material definitely contributing to the spread of the disease by facilitating water clogging and thereby mosquito breeding.
Nevertheless, the garbage problem has created so many issues in the recent months, ranging from health issues to social unrest. Therefore, it is no doubt that the decision by the government to ban the use polythene and other non-decomposable material is prudent, it can be argued. However, it is not clear if the authorities have looked at the practical side of such measures and taken steps to find replacements to fill the blanks. For instance, the highest quantity of polythene is made of the shopping bags, commonly known as silli silli bags issued by the hundreds of thousands by shops, boutiques, and supermarkets to their customers with their purchases. But no alternatives have come to the market even after the announcement of the ban, except for cloth bags promoted by one or two supermarket chains.
Hundreds of thousands of people working in offices and other work places would find it difficult to bring their lunch from home when the use of lunch sheets is banned in a few weeks. The hotels and the other eateries would also face the same problem when people order take away food packs. Apparently there do not seem to be any discussions on the alternatives available. The authorities seem to assume that the people would find alternatives once they are pressed to do so.
Before 1974 when the “silli silli bags” came into the market, people used cloth bags and bags made of other local materials such as the pan malla for shopping and almost everything was wrapped in used newspapers, discarded cement bags and leaves of text books and exercise books discarded by students. There were bags made of “brown paper” and pages from used exercise books. Food was wrapped in banana leaves which were brought to Colombo under very unhygienic conditions. With the concerns and the attitudes of even those in remote areas on hygiene and cleanliness having drastically changed, reverting to many of those materials used some forty years ago seems to be out of question.
We reiterate that the professed intention of the government is commendable. But it would only be practical if it entails appropriate alternative measures. Otherwise it would face the fate that was faced by the decision taken by the previous government to transport vegetable from farming areas to Colombo in plastic boxes.