Despite only being a small island, Sri Lanka has the tragic honour of being the fifth worst marine polluter on Earth. It remains unthinkable how a country of 21 million people competes in this unsavoury league table with population behemoths Thailand (68m) Vietnam (92m), Indonesia (260m) and China(1.3b). The study in Science Magazine suggested that people in Sri Lanka dispose of 5kgs of plastic a day.
This waste problem is not just about plastic, but starting change in this area would be a great leap forward. The government is introducing new laws to ban single use plastic (or specifically plastic under 20mg) from 1st September so there is reason to be optimistic. But legislation like this has failed in the past. Plastic usage is as much about individuals and the decisions we all make, as it is about government policy and the availability of plastic from large retailers.
Try and change your habits with a few of these tips…
Take a sturdy fabric bag to the market or supermarket – these are available at the supermarkets now for approx R 80 and every time you use them they give you a small discount. Or bring your own backpack or something similar. Or ask for a cardboard box at the store (the shop will have many).
Pack your own shopping and insist on no plastics as often the shopkeepers will automatically wrap everything in unnecessary plastics – a bag for each fruit, vegetable, rice and pulses (dahl). If giving up all plastic bags is difficult for you then try to reduce your usage (any reduction is only a success for the planet!). So, if your curry leaves, ginger, garlic and chillis all end up in the same cooking pot what’s the harm in them sitting in the same bag at the store? Similarly your fruits go in the same bowl or fridge at home, so they can all go in the same bag. Meat or fish are a bit more tricky here but at the counter/market request an alternative – the vendor might not like it but he/she will find something to make the sale!
These thin sheets of plastics are the most unnecessary of all and they cover “lunch packets” around the country. Ask your provider to “go natural” – in Sri Lanka one is never far from enormous banana leaves or a coconut shell and that’s how people have eaten their rice and curry in this country for thousands of years. It only changed after the creation of plastic in 1950’s and the mass production of it here after 1980’s! It should be easy to revert back to good traditions. Plus curry served on a banana leaf looks even tastier (great news for the Instagram-ers out there!). And banana leaves etc can be simply washed and used again.
Another item that appears everywhere and yet provides no benefit whatsoever are plastic straws. Just drink the coconut from the hole carved out with the machete! That’s what humans have done throughout the tropics since the advent of man. It’s only changed to a silly little piece of plastic in the last generation, so it can easily be curtailed and forgotten. Very often it is tourists who like/expect a straw but they should be more than aware of the damage plastics do to the environment and should be happy to stop. And if people really want to insist on not sipping their drinks then stainless steel straws (washable and reusable) are available. Better still, go for bamboo!
Again this is something mostly consumed by tourists because visitors to be country assume the tap water is bad. Spread the word that tap water is perfectly drinkable and they can refill their reusable bottle (even a plastic one!) many times. This saves money for the consumer too! Alternatively, water filters are available and large refill tanks and be delivered to homes and businesses.
We all have numerous plastic products in our home that we do not reuse, but are still perfectly reusable. Plastic for washing products (dishes, laundry, hair and body) are often forgotten in the plastic conversation but are often the most guilty of single use. Try opting for products packaged in alternatives such as organic soap or traditional Ayurvedic oils and lotions. Take your old washing up bottles refill (The Good Market in Colombo has numerous Eco vendors who produce bio-cleaning products and you can collect direct from them). After a good clean, you can use your old plastic vessels – that your coconut/olive/vegetable oil came in – for other produce such as rice or lentils. Be creative!