Current Status of Plastic Packaging Materials in Sri Lanka

R.A. Jayasinghe, N.J.G.J. Bandaraand W.A.S.S. Dissanayake, W.M.S.K.B. Wijekoon
Department of Forestry and Environment Science, University of Sri Jayewardenepura, Sri Lanka

All the goods we purchase today require some form of packaging in order to reach their final destination in our homes or workplaces. Despite the many functions served, there is a concern about the amount of packaging that is used and readily disposed. Since it constitute a significant portion of the municipal solid waste stream which will end up in open dump sites, landfills or are burnt in open air.

This study was conducted to recognize the importance of adequate and reliable information on plastic packaging materials and to analyze the current status of the packaging materials used in the country in both qualitative and quantitative manner.

The study was carried out in the Western Province of Sri Lanka. In total, 300 households were selected for the study from the three districts, namely Colombo, Gampaha and Kalutara. Each district was again divided into three sample areas as urban, semi urban and rural according to socio-economic factors such as number of people and income level of the family. 08 groceries per sub area were selected to represent different categories of commercial establishments (Super markets, medium and small sized groceries and shops) from each district. Furthermore, 12 recycling and manufacturing plants were visited from the three districts. The respondents were selected using random sampling method and the data collection was carried out primarily through questionnaire surveys, personal interviews and field visits.

The data collected through the questionnaires were analysed qualitatively and statistically to find out the current status of plastic packaging materials in a densely populated area of the country. According to the survey results, most commonly used packaging material by households is polythene bags. 72% of the households stated that the shopping bags and grocery bags are the most common type of packaging item used in households followed by other food wrappers (59%) and lunch sheets (49%).

Most of the items in the supermarkets are packed using some kind of plastic packaging material and they are giving away bags for each and every item a customer buys. Approximately 1500-2000 bags of all sizes are sold in an average town per day. 62% of the households in urban areas stated that the most common practice of disposal is open dumping or disposing to be collected by the waste collectors of the Municipal or Urban councils. Burning is also widely practiced among many households in rural and semi urban areas as plastic materials are easily combustible. This was 68% in rural and 50% in semi urban areas consecutively.

According to the survey, only 13% of households practice proper waste separation at their homes. 60% of households do not sort by any means and 27% sort waste as organics and inorganics. Re-use capacity of plastic packaging materials are also very low. Only 20% of the households practice re-using of plastic packaging in a regular basis.

According to the data analyzed, the composition of plastic waste used for recycling are PP, PET, HDPE, LDPE, PS, PVC, PC and other polymers. The major portion of plastic waste collected for recycling consists of PP. Recyclers do not accept plastic materials which are contaminated with cement, chemicals, acids and poisons. Moreover, plastic materials found in mix waste are also not accepted due to practical difficulties in sorting them. Despite many difficulties faced by the recyclers, many stated that the industry is profitable.