While we Sri Lankans still continue to postpone the date of the plastic ban, the National Geographic magazine’s June cover continues to inspire millions across the globe to think more seriously of a permanent plastic ban in each and every country. Hailed by environmentalists and the social media, the beautiful cover features a photo-illustration of a plastic bag partly sunken in the ocean, indicating the plastic pollution problem is only the tip of the iceberg.
There’s enough and more evidence that an average citizen or uninformed politician knows about the plastic pollution is indeed a tip of the iceberg. There’s certainly startling reports coming from scientists at regular intervals as to why governments should make the ban on plastic a priority.
Even before the launch of the Nat Geo cover, scientists have pointed out that a massive dump of plastic waste, bigger than Germany, France and Spain combined, is floating in the Pacific Ocean.
While 2017 saw the poverty-stricken Indian capital New Delhi issuing a total ban on single use of plastic and Kenya declaring a four-year jail sentence to anyone producing or selling plastic bags, the Sri Lankan Government backpedalled on the move to ban single use plastics. New Delhi has 20 million people and that’s more or less the same population in Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan Government made the monumental blunder of reneging on its promise of a ban owing to the pressure from plastic producers and retail businessmen. The lesson the government learnt with the collapse of the Meethotamulla garbage dump killing 19 persons was thus soon forgotten.
Let’s not forget that it’s our good neighbour, poverty-stricken Bangladesh, that became the first country to ban plastic bags in 2002, despite strong opposition from traders. Bangladesh made the move on finding that plastic bags choke drainage systems during floods and days after another deluge that played havoc here, Sri Lankans know very well that we too are saddled with the same problem. The only difference in the two countries of course is the variance in the political will.
Researchers have estimated that nearly 15 billion pounds of plastic are added to ocean annually. Worsea plastic bag has been found in the Mariana Trench, ocean’s deepest point which is nearly 11km from the ocean surface. Ocean plastic are reportedly killing millions of marine animals annually and about 700 marine species including whales are known to have been affected by plastic pollution as the fish and mammals are known to swallow plastic bags and other plastic waste. The National Geographic cover for June comes in the wake of an agreement it inked with the global venture to fight ocean plastics, Sky Ocean Venture, committing USD 10 million to help fight ocean plastic litter.
More and more countries and cities both from the developed and developing world are joining the call for the plastic ban, especially the ones that use plastics, with strong, stringent measures. The Sri Lankan Government should muster courage to go ahead with what it planned last year as the traders and consumers are anyhow likely to adapt themselves to the idea as it happened in other countries in the aftermath of a ban.
Besides, the government should come up immediately with an alternative, especially for plastic bags and lunch sheets, by comparing notes with those with success stories. As for the public using refilling water instead of plastic bottled water and carrying reusable shopping bag are among the easiest things they can do.
The global citizens are already joining hands for the cause. Sri Lanka too is duty-bound to take immediate measures to minimize its contribution to the global catastrophe of plastic pollution.