Aug 10, Colombo: Sri Lanka's polythene manufacturers say 345,000 employees will lose their livelihoods when the government imposes a total ban on polyethylene from 1st September.
While the ban is with good intentions, it is likely to affect Sri Lanka's retail economy, exports and even garbage disposal, according to Sri Lanka's HDPE polythene and recycling industry that is now distraught by the ban.
"The new polythene ban is an industry and a humanitarian catastrophe that kills 345000 livelihoods overnight," the Chairman of All Ceylon Polythene Manufacturers and Recyclers Association (ACPMRA) Anura Wijetunge has said.
ACPMRA Chairman Wijetunge, accompanied by more than 300 manufacturers of HDPE polythene has met Minister of Industry and Commerce Rishad Bathiudeen and his top official on Tuesday to raise their concerns on the ban and request the Minister to intervene immediately to resolve the looming ban that will be effective from 01 September.
According to the industry, 80% of Sri Lanka's annual polythene production is in HDPE (high-density polyethylene) considered to be stronger and low cost and the rest 20% in LDPE (low-density polyethylene). Due to its high strength HDPE is considered to be more harmful to environment than LDPE.
Annually Lankan HDPE manufacturers produce around 40 million kilos of HDPE polythene-which is banned from September 1. The value of annual Lankan HDPE polythene output is Rs 12.87 Billion (US $ 84 million) and this sector employs 345,000 workers, 45000 of them directly.
ACPMRA Chairman Wijetunge told Minister Bathiudeen that the ban will affect the entire economy.
He said the 800 HDPE industry operators are forced to shut down by the ban that was issued without an advance notice and they are facing a serious liquidity crisis and are unable to operate since no one lends them now. "The entire HDPE industry is at a standstill," he said.
Wijetunge said not a single HDPE manufacturer was included in the 16-member committee that made the recommendations to ban the polythene.
The industry representative pointed out that the influence of HDPE polythene is so vast and cross cutting, that not only the retail economy but even the exports sector is affected. HDPE polythene is used in 25% of apparel exports, and most fruits and vegetable exports.
He noted that no other country in the world has banned HDPE polythene and only control measures have been enforced.
"What we demand is for a five year phasing out HDPE industry transition period during which time we can pay back our loans and switch to new technology. There are no real substitutes for HDPE polythene at this moment. We also call for low cost Oxo-biodegradable plastic technology to be used in Sri Lanka instead of proposed starch based bio degradable plastic technology, which is four times costlier," Wijetunge said.
While pointing out that the plastic harmful to the environment should be discouraged Minister Bathiudeen has expressed concern over the job losses due to a complete ban and agreed to intervene in finding a resolution.
The polythene manufacturers have informed the Minister that when they met Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on the issue recently, he showed his understanding of their plight and sympathized with them.
Minister Bathiudeen instructed his top officials to inquire into this arranged a meeting on 10 August between the industry representatives who met him on 8 August and national environmental officials.
Minister Bathiudeen has also scheduled another urgent consultation between industry reps and the Cabinet Committee on Economic Management (CCEM) headed by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Friday (11 August).
Last month the Central Environment Authority (CEA) of Sri Lanka banned the use, production, import and sale of polythene lunch sheets, shopping bags, and Rigifoam items under a new rule that comes into effect on 01 September. Cabinet approval was also granted on 11 July for "a series of measures to gradually end the use of polythene and thus minimize its environmental impact."