Industry violates lunch sheet ban since 2017: Environment Ministry

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The Ministry of Environment pressed that the lunch sheet ban has been in effect since 2017, while revealing that the ban is heavily violated by industry players as it is not enforced effectively, The Morning Business learns.

Lunch sheet

“They can be taken into custody as the present law to ban polythene lunch sheets, amongst six others, was followed by the gazette that was issued in 2017. This must be understood. We are revising the National Environmental Act already – cabinet approval is taken. Now we are drafting it through the Legal Draftsman,” Ministry of Environment Secretary Dr. Anil Jasinghe stated.

He also addressed the misconception that there is a reimplementation of the ban and turned it down. There is no reimplementation, as the present law mentions that the ban is in effect, Dr. Jasinghe stated.

In addition to polythene lunch sheets, open burning and regiform lunch boxes were another two, Dr. Jasinghe stated. As such, three measures in total were successful while the remaining were not, it was revealed.

As the Environment Ministry has taken several measures to protect the environment, which reflect the measures of world leaders, a clear gap can be noted. This gap consists of the lack of enforcement and awareness as the first step, Dr. Jasinghe noted, adding that the Central Environmental Authority (CEA) can fill after the National Environmental Act is revised. 

“It is not easy because it is households; in this country, we cannot pinpoint exactly where these violations occur. Also, the sustainability of biodegradable lunch sheets and its capacity to degrade depends on the mix of the raw materials. Some companies run scams, claiming to produce biodegradable lunch sheets whereas there was plastic present in the product,” he stressed.

He then informed us that the alternative ban was brought into effect in 2017 due to heavy plastic pollution, where a 100% biodegradable lunch sheet was introduced as an alternative to polythene lunch sheets. However, he drew his attention back to state that investors and industry players are unwilling to invest in companies that provide this solution.

“Maybe it is a bit more expensive than polythene lunch sheets. The biodegradable lunch sheet-producing companies were ready to become big players in Sri Lanka and there were people ready to invest but, this polythene lunch sheet continued to be in daily use, irrespective of the ban imposed in 2017,” he stated.

Dr. Jasinghe further stressed that polythene lunch sheets continue to exist, disrupting the changes that need to occur in the economy in order for the demand for biodegradable lunch sheets to rise and for the industry to boom.

According to Sri Lanka Coastguard and Earthday.org, Sri Lanka is recognised as the world’s fifth-largest plastic polluter.

Leading global companies such as Nike, Disney, Tesla, eBay, and Starbucks, amongst others, in the US, China, Canada, and the UK are moving towards a sustainable future, ensuring the livelihood of human beings and other species.

However, with companies such as Brandix, Elephant House, Unilever, and Aiken Spence, along with the measures the Environment Ministry, Sri Lanka too has made an effort to uplift the country and join the leading countries towards a sustainable future.

Furthermore, the Environment Ministry Secretary, elaborating on one reason why this ban is disregarded, stated that polythene lunch sheets are still reaching markets, regardless of the ban.

“Biodegradable lunch sheets need capital investment, and it is a huge amount. Industry players are small players that do not have the capacity to invest and support these companies and support the ban, rather than violating it,” Dr. Jasinghe pointed out.

He further pressed that this practice is prohibited and revealed that it is the CEA that is responsible for enforcing this law. Accordingly, the CEA was said to have lacked in covering these essential tasks and allowed the small industry players to violate this ban.

In terms of subsidies, he informed that the Ministry hadn’t been able to discuss this matter thoroughly yet and that this matter will be technically disclosed soon.

He further noted that the Environment Ministry has been having active discussion to make sure Sri Lanka works towards a sustainable future, while informing that the Ministry has had its hands full with revising the Act.

As per other alternatives, Dr. Jasinghe stated that banana leaves are a good alternative, as it is plant-based and sustainable. Food packaged in banana leaves is a Sri Lanka staple mark as it reflects culture and history. Specialising and promoting industries that show off Sri Lankan culture will also repute the country, which could in turn increase tourism and exports.

Moreover, as using banana leaves to package food is still practised in the country, there is already an existing market with its demand and supply. Steps taken to promote this industry will also allow many value additions such as bananas, which can be added to exports and strengthen banana exports as well.

Lastly, Dr. Jasinghe stated that there has to be a strong supply chain and that food packaging involves large-scale demand, adding that these things will be discussed soon.

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