Sri Lanka moves on plastics ban in wake of wildlife deaths

A wild elephant stood in front of a pile of garbage and plastic pollution
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Sri Lanka will further ban some single-use plastics, its government said on 14 February. The move follows a series of wild elephant and deer deaths from plastic poisoning.

A panel appointed 18 months ago, to study the impact of plastic waste on the environment and wildlife, recommended the action.

Domestic production and sale ban

Cabinet spokesperson and media minister Bandula Gunawardana said the government will prohibit the manufacture or sale of plastic cutlery, cocktail shakers, and artificial flowers from June.

In 2017, Sri Lanka banned non-biodegradable plastic bags due to concerns over flash floods. And it prohibited imports of plastic cutlery, food wrappers, and toys two years ago.

The latter move came after a spate of deaths of elephants and deer in the island’s northeast after foraging at open rubbish tips. Autopsies showed the animals had died after eating plastics mixed with food waste. But local manufacture and sale of plastic products continued.

Sri Lanka’s top authority on Asian elephants, Jayantha Jayewardene, welcomed the move to stop the use of plastic products. But he told Agence France-Presse that the ban should be extended to biodegradable plastic bags. He said:

These bags are getting into the food chain of elephants and wildlife and that is not a good thing

Read on...

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Plastic pollution is a serious danger to wildlife

Plastic pollution poses a serious threat to wildlife, including both aquatic and terrestrial species. As Forbes has reported, around 80% of all marine pollution is plastic waste. Fishing gear makes up a major part of this. The fishing industry dumps about 640,000 tons of gear in the ocean each year, according to the publication. The International Union for Conservation of Nature has explained that:

Entanglement in plastic ropes, lines and discarded fishing gear injures and kills all kinds of marine animals; while ingestion at every stage of the food chain can cause fatalities or have major impacts on physiological functions including nutrition, growth, behaviour and reproduction.

Terrestrial species are also impacted by plastic pollution, as Sri Lanka’s example shows. Aside from species ingesting plastic waste directly, recent research also illustrates that plastics appear to be making their way into certain terrestrial species via the food chain.

As Mongabay reported, the study found plastic waste in the scat – i.e. faecal waste – of fishing cats in urban areas of Sri Lanka. The publication wrote that fishing cats are:

a wetland-dependent species and eat a varied diet of fish, birds and small rodents. As they are not known to forage in or eat trash, it’s thought that the species was exposed to plastic via its prey

Elephants and other wildlife dying from plastic pollution

Sri Lanka considers elephants sacred and protects them by law. Nonetheless, organisations like Rally for Animals Rights & Environment (RARE) regularly point to elephant welfare issues in the country, particularly in relation to elephants in captivity.

Additionally, about 400 elephants die a year as a result of human-elephant conflict near wildlife reserves, as do around 50 people.

Shrinking habitat has led to jumbos raiding villages looking for food, and many suffer agonising deaths after foraging for food at dumps filled with plastic waste.

Additionally, dozens of wild deer died from plastic poisoning in Sri Lanka’s northeastern district of Trincomalee about five years ago. This prompted the government to ban the open dumping of garbage near jungle reserves.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse

Featured image via Tharmapalan Tilaxan / Wikimedia, cropped to 770×403, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

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  • Show Comments
    1. One of these days I’ll read a piece about ‘plastic pollution’ that will include solutions other than banning a tiny few of the vast array of sources. Up to now, I have no reason to believe anyone has any solutions, given that plastics are used in pretty much every aspect of human lives. It’s a problem of great proportions… so what should be done?

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