Hap hazard disposal of Single-use Plastic Products (SUPPs) is one of the major environmental issues that need to address urgently given the scale of the problem. The increasing level of consumption of SUPPs contributed to a global plastic production rate of 360 million metric tonnes in 2018, of which SUPPs represent 50%. After being used once, most SUPPs are disposed of on land, in water bodies, landfilled, incinerated or burnt in open spaces without recycling and any pre-treatment, which pollutes the environment and affects the health of humans and other living creatures, and also causes the loss of valuable resources.
With the enhanced understanding of the above negative impacts on the environment and human health, the global community has been providing more sustainable solutions and creating SUPPs reduction strategies to promote the use of reusable products, moving towards a more circular approach based on the life-cycle assessment (LCA) methods. There is also a growing concern to identify alternative materials, products and solutions to SUPPs.
Policymakers in both national and local governments have a critical role in creating the enabling environment and incentives for reducing SUPPs, as well as establishing the necessary technologies and behavioural changes that are needed to eradicate SUPP pollution in partnership with all stakeholders – public, private, and citizens. Resolution 9 of the fourth edition of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEP/EA.4/R.9) encourages member states to take action, as appropriate, to promote the identification and development of environmentally friendly alternatives to single-use plastic products, considering the full life cycle implications of such alternatives.
Like other countries, Sri Lanka has started several new initiatives to address plastic pollution and marine litter. The Ministry of Environment of Sri Lanka (MOE, Sri Lanka) developed a National Action Plan on Plastic Waste Management 2021-2030 and in 2021 and prioritized the actions to phase out selected SUPPs by 2021/2022. Policymakers however require science-based knowledge and evidence to introduce sound policies and regulatory interventions at different stages of SUPP lifecycles, adapted to the local capacities and conditions where the policy will be implemented and enforced.
This study, therefore, presents the results of the LCA study that was conducted for selected eight SUPPs and their alternatives in consultation with the policymakers and practitioners in Sri Lanka. It estimates the environmental impact of SUPPs and their alternatives and discusses the key advantages and challenges based on international experiences on SUPP bans in other countries. The key findings and recommendations summarized a shred of science-based evidence, not only for the Sri Lankan government but also for other countries with similar capacities, with the aim of proper management of SUPPs within the countries.