PET Bottle Christmas Tree
If you had passed by Marine Drive last week, it would have been extremely hard to have missed the Christmas Tree erected right next to the Wellawatte Station. Seeing Christmas trees all around is the norm this season. However, to see a Christmas tree entirely made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottles is something unusual. After seven beach clean ups conducted in Galle Face, Modara, Dehiwala, South Mount Lavinia and Wellawatte, where volunteers collected over 2400 PET plastic bottles, Pearl Protectors erected this tree on December 22.
This has been the second PET plastic bottle Christmas tree constructed by Pearl Protectors, a volunteer organization specifically focussed on marine conservation and protection, as they did previously in 2018.
Daily Mirror spoke to a few volunteers to get an insight regarding marine pollution in Sri Lanka and the objectives behind constructing the tree.
Colombo’s seabed is covered in plastic, not sand!
Plastics thrown to the ocean, when exposed to direct sunlight break into smaller particles. With time, these particles become microplastics, which are any types of plastics less than 5mm in length and are often mistaken for food by marine life. “A recent study showed that a human consumes an average of 5g of plastic per week which is a credit card’s worth of plastic. ,”revealed Alina Fernando, 22, an environmental sciences undergraduate. Avishka Sendanayake, an environmentalist, added that 90% of the fish have microplastics in them. She revealed that all around Colombo’s coastal line, 80% of the seabed is covered in plastic and not sand. “When you dive, you can’t see sand, but rather, you see plastic. This is a pathetic situation. As a country with a huge fishing industry this issue has to be addressed,” said Sendanayake.
Convenience over Consequences
Fernando notices that the reason that most people use single use plastic is due to the fact that they don’t care about the consequences or are generally not aware of the impact of plastic pollution. “Many people scapegoat recycling to justify their use of single use plastic, but most aren’t aware of how recycling is done or what is done or where they could give it to recycle. Only 3%- 5% of plastic in Sri Lanka is recycled,” Fernando stated.
Echoing Fernando’s sentiments, Eranga Mendis, a volunteer at Pearl Protectors, remarked that even individuals with a high level of education contribute to plastic pollution and use single use plastics as it is convenient to them due to their busy lifestyles. “Since single use plastic has been made available in Sri Lanka, there has been a drastic shift in the mindsets of Sri Lankans. There is no need to use a straw unless a person is physically challenged or suffers from a serious health condition that makes it hard to drink from a glass. A change in attitude should happen,” he opined.
Giving a different view on the issue, Verani Jayasekara, another volunteer, stated that another reason why people buy single use plastics is also due to financial difficulties. “Instead of investing in a reusable water bottle, people tend to buy a plastic bottle and use it as a water bottle for some purpose due to financial difficulties. But these people aren’t aware that reusing these plastic bottles isn’t good for the health as plastic particles tend to disintegrate when exposed to sunlight and they consume these plastic particulate matter,” Jayasekara explained.
Nanoplastics, what’s that?
Microplastics can degrade into nanoplastics which measure less than 100 billionths of a metre causing it to be invisible. Scientists have found that nanoplastics could penetrate cells and move into tissues and organs into organisms. In humans, chemicals emanated by microplastics are found to cause issues. Certain chemicals act as endocrine disruptors- disrupting hormonal function in the body, are carcinogenic and can cause defects in foetuses.
Sparking off a conversation
When speaking to Muditha Katuwawala, the Coordinator for Pearl Protectors, he stated that the cause of plastic bottles in the sea was they being washed in by the rivers and the canals due to currents.
During our beach clean ups they were very helpful to us and we tried to educate them on plastic pollution, some communities understood the impact,” said Katuwawala.
He identified four reasons for plastic pollution:
- People being unaware of the repercussions of plastic pollution
- People being unconcerned about the environmental impact
- The Municipal Councils not having mechanisms to recycle single use plastics
- Lack of implementation and enforcement of laws against single use plastic
“The reason we constructed this tree is to ensure that we would spark off a conversation regarding plastic pollution. People are now able to observe the amount of single use plastic bottles that have been found across the Colombo coastal line. I hope this tree would serve as a wake up call for the people.,” he said adding that there was a pledge for a plastic free 2020 next to the tree.
However, Katuwawala noted that there has been a significant decrease in plastic pollution on beaches compared to the pollution in 2018. He feels that this is due to the fact that in areas like Galle Face, due to it being a central point , authorities were compelled to place bins and maintain its cleanliness.
Is there a solution to the pollution?
Katuwawala opined that the Government should have mechanisms to segregate waste and recycle the recyclable waste and compost the compostable waste. An average of 12%-14% of the waste is recycled in the world whilst in certain European countries, 80% of the waste is recycled.
Maleesha Gunawardana, 22, a law undergraduate remarked that creating awareness among people was the first step towards curbing the issue. “Starting a conversation is the objective of our project and I’m glad to see it taking place. After being aware, people would understand why they should eliminate the use of single use plastics and eventually, they will tend to move towards alternatives,” said Gunawardana. Stating that Sri Lankans had to focus more on reducing and reusing, Fernando suggested that people should be encouraged to carry their own boxes even to a restaurant. Promoting volunteerism whilst advocating against plastic pollution.
“Our volunteers were exposed to first hand view of plastic pollution on the beaches as we conducted beach clean ups,” said Katuwawala.
Ajmal Hassen, 27, an engineer by profession stated volunteerism and inculcated the feeling of caring about society and contentment. “I never believed that so much plastic washes up ashore, but when I went to some of the beach clean ups, I realised this was the reality and it inculcated within me a sense of responsibility,” he stated.
Volunteerism whilst causing a sense of responsibility and awareness of issues, is a tool to spread awareness and create a ripple effect, according
Christmas tree to be converted to yarn
Pearl Protectors had partnered with Zero Trash LK to recycle the plastic bottles they had used for the tree. Hasanka Padukka of Zero Trash LK, said that they would segregate the different types of plastics and then send them to Eco Spindles who would then produce the polyester yarn from plastic.
Plastic pollution is not something that can be eliminated overnight, but with active participation from the Government to implement and enforce policies to help environmental conservation efforts, and civil societies in raising awareness on the impact, it can be minimised and single use plastics can be eliminated.
Volunteers for the PET Bottle Christmas Tree