WHY PLASTIC? in Rural Sri Lanka

February 15, 2022

Photo by
Alberica Rindi
Alberica Rindi & Rachel Sheary

Nestled in the forest of Kitulgala in central Sri Lanka lies Wanakaset - a biodiversity conservation and reforestation project with the mission of restoring an ecologically balanced environment. Driven by passion and purpose, Banda, Pema, Dammika and Yamuna work daily to generate healthy soil through diverse ecological techniques - from Permaculture to Agroforestry and Permaforestry. 

The well-being of the natural environment is threatened by plastic pollution worldwide. While predominantly western countries continue to produce the material at alarming rates, countries like Sri Lanka are often the most negatively affected. Without the infrastructure, law enforcement and/or financial means to deal with the problem, plastic pollution could quickly become an insurmountable issue.

WHY PLASTIC? Community Screening

Alberica Rindi is a former employee at The Why, and has been living in the community of Wanakaset for some weeks. Together with Banda, the director of Wanakaset, they decided to host a screening and discussion based on the WHY PLASTIC? campaign, which launched in October 2021. They invited people from the villages near Kitulgala and opened with an introduction about the global issue of plastic, as well as an exchange of examples and experiences of plastic waste in Sri Lanka and Europe. Two short films from the campaign followed, before a screening of Coca-Cola’s Plastic Promises (the second full-length film in the three-part series).

Plastic in Sri Lanka

Even in the idyllic Sri Lankan countryside, plastic waste is becoming a regular feature. This is concerning to locals in Kitulgala and surrounding areas. Insufficient waste management leads to landfilling and incineration, causing air and water pollution and subsequent health issues. Ahinsa, the daughter of Banda, spoke about the magnitude of nature destruction she experienced while visiting a landfill. She asked about landfills and incineration in Europe, and how the governments in the west were dealing with the problem. While the Sri Lankan government has launched a national action plan on plastic waste management - setting bans in place on single-use plastics and prohibiting the burning of plastic - it is still common practice for people to burn the material in their backyards. This is widely thought of as a better way to reduce waste.

Big Industry: Coca-Cola's Impact

The Coca-Cola bottling factory near Colombo opened in 1961. Today, Coca Cola products are sold all over the country and through a range of brands, including Coke, Sprite, Fanta, Portello, Lion Sodas and Kinley water. The company has invested heavily in the country. A recent report from the Centre for Environmental Justice CEJ revealed that companies such as Coca Cola, Unilever and Nestle contribute to the most plastic pollution in Sri Lanka. While it supports many socio-economic projects and attempts to uphold its CSR, more efforts are required to create new recycling infrastructure and deposit and return systems for its bottles in the country.

Throughout the discussion that followed the films, the audience (mostly children and women) mentioned they had no idea that burning plastic releases toxic nanoparticles into the air that we breathe. They were shocked to learn about the health dangers that arise from the chemicals released in the process of burning plastic and agreed that private international companies have a responsibility to tackle the issue, along with governments and individuals.

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