Why should polythene be free of charge?
Evindee Suriyabandara
28 August 2019

When considering the average amount of polythene bags used up in a single day, replacing all those polythene bags with a cloth  or paper bag can certainly slow down our ticking clock and it can  be said that we might be on our way to such a day. Yet, one can never deny our pace is too sluggish when considering how fast we managed to fill our oceans with plastic. We can certainly change this situation by rather simple deeds that can truly transform our world in the long run

One of those simple deeds is by changing our grocery bags. For quite some time now, the most  commonly seen grocery bags were polythene, which has ended up playing a large role in the crisis we are facing today. Plastics bags emit volatile organic compounds, also known as VOCs (Acetone, Benzene) and certain greenhouse gases (Nitrous oxide, Sulphur oxide). Also  many incidents have occurred in the recent past in Sri Lanka that clearly highlights the harmful effect of polythene towards   wildlife

But regardless of its toxicity, the usage of polythene/plastic continuously increased through the years, and the production of plastic is estimated to rise drastically over the next few years.

Source- UN GRID-Arendal


Midsts all this plastic production, it is estimated that 4 trillion plastic bags are used worldwide annually, yet only 1% of plastic bags are returned for recycling/ Therefore, as a planet that is facing a crisis, we went back to the past and quite simply brought back what we used before polythene started to go mainstream, “cloth”. So logically many supermarkets started to make the “cloth bag” an item that was available for their customers, but anyone who felt like saving their planet now has to pay a price, a literal price. Anyone who wants to use a cloth bag should purchase it for a minimum of Rs.60 – Rs 80, which is quite understandable when considering the cost incurred by cloth bags, it will not be profitable for a company to just hand out cloth bags to whoever buys their products.


However, polythene bags are completely free of charge and through personal experience it has become evident that most supermarkets workers feel obliged to give a polythene bag even for the tiniest item. Again one cannot truly blame the workers as it is their job to give us bags to carry the products we bought from them. But a little bit of thinking can take us a long way so simply why not charge for polythene bags and use that to compensate for the “Cloth bag”.

Frankly this is not an idea that hasn’t been tried yet, it is actually being implemented in many countries in an effort to go green. Proof of this system being a success can be seen by the tests conducted in 3 communities in California where if a plastic bag was offered for free about 75% will take the bag but if charged, even a small amount the people who accept the bag will be reduced to 16%.


This situation can certainly be applied to Sri Lanka. If all supermarkets put a price on their polythene, the amount of polythene usage will undoubtedly decrease.In Sri Lanka 20 billion polythene bags are being used per day and the entire island produces over 1.59 million metric tons of plastic waste per year and is ranked fifth when considering our masses of mismanaged plastic waste , hence reduction in usage is certainly and desperately needed. Putting a price on our daily pollutants can be a way to open doors for this.

The largest reason most companies switched to plastic bottles and polythene bags in the past is because the manufacturing costs are lower but through time it has started to become clearer that we are sacrificing our future for short term comfort which will eventually be our demise –  these words aren’t unheard of in the current world but a common misconception is that you have to make large and rather inconvenient changes to your lifestyle when in reality all you  have to do is make small changes that will collectively have a large impact.

Most countries may have a hard time prioritizing subsidizing infrastructure for environmental purposes but living an environmentally friendly life can be difficult without the proper policies, therefore simple policy changes can undeniably go a long way.


Evindee Suriyabandara
28 August 2019
Evindee is currently studying for the G.C.E Ordinary Level examination at Musaeus College Colombo. As a young student she is passionate about the causes of climate change and the impact that it can have on our future.


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