Sri Lanka to ban single-use plastic to save elephants

Sri Lanka to ban single-use plastics to save elephants
Elephant comes to eat garbage dumped in a forest in the Minneriya region of Sri Lanka, February 12, 2023, credit: Thilina Kaluthotage/NurPhoto via Reuters

Single-use plastic products will be banned in Sri Lanka to protect wild elephants who die eating the waste, the government said Tuesday. From June, manufacturing or selling plastic cutlery, artificial flowers and cocktail shakers will be forbidden.

Single-use plastic refers to plastic items designed to be used only once before being thrown in the garbage. In Sri Lanka, plastic garbage has become a major problem for the country’s wild elephant population. 

As human settlements increasingly invade elephants’ natural habitat, elephants are forced to search for food in garbage dumps and other areas where plastic waste is common. 

When animals eat plastic waste, it can cause intestinal blockages, leading to starvation and malnutrition, and can also release harmful chemicals into the animals’ systems.

The move to ban single-use plastic in Sri Lanka was recommended by a panel set up 18 months ago to study the impact of plastic waste on the environment and animals. They found that wild elephants and deer were dying from eating plastic products.

In 2017, non-biodegradable plastic bags were banned in Sri Lanka. And in 2020, importing plastic cutlery, toys and food wrappers was forbidden. Still, local manufacture and sale of plastic products continued, killing more animals, which led to the decision to ban the production of single-use plastics in the country.

Jayantha Jayewardene, an expert on Asian elephants, welcomed the ban but told news agency AFP that it should also be extended to biodegradable plastic bags: “These bags are getting into the food chain of elephants and wildlife, and that is not a good thing.”

Besides dying from eating garbage, humans kill around 400 elephants every year. In 2020, Sri Lanka earned the dubious ranking as the country where the most elephants are killed because of the human-elephant conflict. Last year, 433 elephants died in Sri Lanka. 

Not only elephants but also deer, cows, dogs, and birds eat plastic waste in Sri Lanka.

Plastic pollution continues to be a serious threat to animals worldwide. Sea and land animals are eating or getting entangled in plastic waste.


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