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Protecting elephants: Sri Lanka bans the sale of single-use plastics

In a move that won’t seem so bold to Kenyans, Sri Lanka’s government has banned the sale of single-use plastics. In Sri Lanka, where the Asian elephant is considered sacred by many of the nation’s population, plastic poisoning was found to be the frequent cause of death for both elephant and local deer species.

Here in Kenya, the discovery of plastic inside the stomachs of animals was also a motivator when we created our own anti-plastic laws. Abattoirs and butchers frequently found plastic bags inside the stomachs of cattle, sheep and goats kept and slaughtered for sustenance.

Britain’s BBC reported, in an article assessing the success of our plastic bag ban two years on, that as many as 50% of cows that grazed in urban and semi-urban areas were found to have plastic bags inside their stomachs.

Protecting elephant by banning single-use plastic

In Sri Lanka, wildlife was first found to be dying by plastic poisoning about five years ago. In one of the country’s north-eastern districts, wild deer were discovered dead and with remnants of plastic waste in their system.

It prompted calls for regulation of the plastic industry. Initially, in 2017, non-biodegradable plastic bags were banned. Then, two years later, the import of plastic toys, cutlery and food wrappers was banned.

It was found, however, that the problem of wild animal plastic poisoning persisted. This prompted the new move, a total ban on single-use plastic.

In Sri Lanka, there is a greater interaction between these animals and human settlement. Even when the animals are completely wild – because many elephant there are not –, wild deer and wild elephant are often found on the borders of urban areas, they even enter into urban environments.

Often, waste deposits, mixed in with food waste that attracts the animals, is the plastic that can kill the creatures that come to eat in these areas.

Protecting elephants by banning single-use plastics: lessons from our own plastic ban

In Kenya, the ban was limited to plastic bags and has not presently advanced into prohibiting the sale and production of items such as plastic cutlery. However, our example may still be able to provide something of a roadmap for the Sri Lankans.

In that 2019, two year report on Kenya’s plastic bag ban article published by the BBC, it was stated that around 300 people had been charged with offences relating to the ownership or distribution of the banned products.

A few more had been given jail time. Indeed, as a deterrent, the change was initially demonstrable. Far fewer are the plastic bags one sees trapped in the trees and bushes alongside Kenya’s roads.

However, as reported by the BBC and as is observable by any Kenyan, plastic waste is still evident, both in landfills and alongside roadways. The replacement to the plastic bag, the initially much more recyclable polypropylene, has, apparently, been altered since the ban.

It is now no longer recyclable and, as what was initially considered, a better alternative, it is alleged to have become just as bad as the plastic bags it replaced.

There is no doubt that Kenya has become cleaner since the ban but, as with many laws, people have found ways around it. There are reports that illegal imports of plastic still come through our neighbour’s borders. What’s more, the ban itself did not stop the production of all plastic waste here in Kenya. One still sees overflowing landfills and cattle eating from them.

Still, these moves, both by Kenya and Sri Lanka, are steps in the right direction. We wish the Sri Lankans good fortune in the enforcement and outcome of their new ruling.

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