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Sri Lanka and Plastic: A match made in hell

As Sri Lankans, I think we’ve all been overcome with intense patriotism when we see Sri Lanka being recognized internationally for something. Whether it’s being named ‘Lonely planet’s No.1 travel destination for 2019’, playing good cricket, producing world-class tea, or simply even being mentioned by a Hollywood celebrity, these moments never fail to make us feel proud of being Sri Lankan. However, as of recent times, we’ve been getting global attention for a very shameful reason. Sri Lanka has made a reputation of being one of the leading contributors to ocean plastic pollution in the world.

An Instagram photo by National Geographic, September 2019


A study by The Wall Street Journal, in 2010, found Sri Lanka to be the 5th largest contributor of marine plastic debris in the world. We produce, a staggering, 5 million metric tons of mismanaged plastic waste annually of which 640,000 tons end up in the ocean. One of the biggest impacts ocean plastic pollution has is that many marine animals ingest plastic debris floating around in our oceans and Sri Lankans, being people who love their seafood, will unknowingly be consuming these and harmful chemicals micro plastics.

Sri Lanka also relies heavily on its tourism industry, which brings in a large portion of the countries’ earnings. Marine plastic debris can often be seen washing up on the shores of the Sri Lankan coastline, often bringing with them a pungent odor, tainting the golden sands and turquoise waters that are a major attraction for foreign travelers.

The Wellawatte beach

The next big question is, ‘so what can we do about this?’ The answer is quite simple, really.

Avoid Single-use plastics

What exactly is single-use plastic? Single-use plastics, or disposable plastics, are used only once before they are thrown away or recycled. These items are things like plastic bags, straws, coffee stirrers, soda and water bottles and most food packaging. A good place to put this into practice is the supermarket. Out of courtesy, the cashier will offer to put that one book and biscuit packet you bought into a plastic bag. REFUSE! If you aren’t carrying anything else you can surely carry a couple of items in your hands without the need for a bag. Its small things like this that can make a big difference.

Proper waste management

Sri Lanka has introduced the concept of garbage segregation, separating plastic and polythene for recycling. It’s essential that we aid this effort by segregating our waste as much as possible and also making sure we collect any waste in general. A stray chocolate wrapper or a plastic bottle, no matter how far from the ocean, will end up being swept away by rainwater into the nearest drain or canal which will eventually reach the sea. Even items as insignificant as the plastic wrapper of the straw of a Milo packet should be disposed of properly.

You could take your effort a step further and hand in your plastic waste to one of the many recycling plants in Colombo.

Eco-friendly alternatives

It’s crucial that we look for eco-friendly alternatives to plastic in our daily lives. Simple things like using reusable bags instead of plastic bags to carry groceries, switching from polythene lunch sheets to more biodegradable lunch sheets or even banana leaves, buying glass bottled beverages over plastic bottled ones, patronizing shops that use paper or reusable bags/packaging over ones that use plastic. With so many people making an effort to lead more eco-friendly lives, it’s our responsibility as well to make greener changes to our lives.

Spreading awareness

Finally, spreading awareness and educating the citizens of our country is paramount. It’s only through proper education that this problem could be completely wiped out. Volunteer work such as hosting workshops, beach clean ups, peaceful protests or even something as simple as sharing a post could go a long way and help society see the damage being done and hopefully bring it to a stop.

As Robert Swan said “The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it”.

Rtr. Yasiru Gunaratne


The author RACALBS