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Rejuvenating waste plastic bottles, a universal treasure

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by Michael F. Perera

Valuable resources are extracted every day to develop convenient products such as bottles, containers and more. As the extraction of virgin resources rapidly depletes the availability of such, it is high time a sustainable alternative is fetched, to ensure longevity and liveability for future generations.

With the prices for virgin material on the rise, the alternative, which is waste that can be recycled, is staring at us from the roadsides, canals and landfills. If we collect and recycle the waste plastic bottles around our island, the need to import approximately 1000-1300 tonnes of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) every month would significantly reduce, and help revive the environment and economy as well.

Sixty percent of the monthly PET plastic in Sri Lanka is circulated within the Western Province. Unless measures are taken to collect and dispose of waste plastic effectively, the requirement to import plastic will continue to rise, and the potential for a resilient circular economy and improved livelihoods in the recycling sector, will eventually disappear.

 

Bottle-to-Bottle: a better solution?

 

One of the easiest solutions is to bring plastic back into the system and recycle it to produce a bottle again. But, that’s hardly a reality. Why? Sri Lanka doesn’t legally allow recycled content in food-grade manufacturing.

According to the Extraordinary Gazette Notification No. 1160/30 of June 29, 2010 “any food in any package, appliance, container or vessel that has been made from recycled plastic” is prohibited. Thus, there is a fear around using recycled plastic in food-grade packaging in terms of quality, and impact on the health of the end consumer.

However, around the world, countries are embracing this concept, committing to world-class standards and implementing the bottle-to-bottle concept to efficiently curb plastic waste pollution, while also giving back to their economy and local communities. Developed and developing economies such as USA, Canada, Europe, Brazil, Bangladesh and Nigeria allows recycled PET in food-grade packaging, which scales down on the use of virgin resin in manufacturing.

For example, the level of PET bottle recycling in Japan is one of the highest in the world, and this was made possible by the Containers and Packaging Recycling Act (1995) which was implemented to promote the segregated collection and recycling of containers and packaging waste. The Government of Japan designates three types of recycling processes; Material, Chemical and Thermal recycling. PET plastics fall under the ‘Material’ category, where PET bottles are made into new PET products.

In Indonesia, Coca-Cola plans to set up a new recycling facility, which will help eliminate the use of virgin plastic. The facility will house a bottle-to-bottle grade PET recycling facility where the use of recycled plastic could reduce the amount of new plastic resin the company uses by an estimated 25,000 tonnes each year. Through this venture, Coca-Cola hopes to play a critical role in supporting Indonesia’s plastic waste management issue, while creating an impact on the country’s circular economy as well.

Moreover, in evident efforts to save foreign exchange and successfully battle against the war of pollution, the bottle-to-bottle concept is approved in many countries. The case in Sri Lanka should be no different. As this concept is also approved by The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Lankan authorities should follow suit and save valuable foreign exchange by converting waste PET back to a bottle. Currently, Sri Lanka spends up to USD 1,550 per ton, per month in foreign reserves for the importation of PET plastic, where approximately 1000-1300 tons of PET is imported per month.

Additionally, recycling PET bottles to their original form can be done more than 7-8 times, where the process is much more affordable and less harmful to the environment, as PET plastics produce three times less CO2 in production when compared to an alternative material such as glass.

Using modern and advanced machinery in the recycling process, the intrinsic viscosity (IV) level, which is the strength of a bottle, will not only be kept stable, but increase as well.

So if the underlying benefits are clear and extremely advantageous to all Sri Lankans, why hasn’t this concept been implemented?

 

Waste management: a need for stronger reform

 

In a holistic point of view, one of the biggest issues in Sri Lanka’s waste management system is the poor implementation of proper waste collection. From rural households, to the urban West, to the authoritative bodies in the country, a responsibility to segregate and dispose of plastic waste appropriately must be indoctrinated.

Primarily, every household should ideally have four separate designated bins to collect organic waste, paper waste, glass and metal waste and plastic waste. This way, collectors can collect the less contaminated plastics and give it to the recyclers.

In Japan, households are encouraged to sort their waste at home as they are provided with specific containers for PET bottles, PS foam containers, and PP bottle caps separately, instead of mixing them with other plastics. They are further encouraged to utilise segregated disposal methods such as PET bottle shredders provided at supermarkets for consumers to dispose of their used PET bottles, after which they can collect store credit or shopping tokens. Japan’s impressively high plastic recycling rate is owed to its local Governments’ sorting rules, which are some of the strictest in the world.

In Sri Lanka, most people look up to the Government to address this issue, but truth be told, the infrastructure and practices in place are outdated and inefficient. In essence, the local Government’s policy decisions in the waste management and recycling arenas have been extreme, often overlooking the long-term economic and environmental benefits that could be availed, in favour of an ‘easy-fix’ ban.

Local authorities are also a key stakeholder in ensuring a proper and efficient waste segregation and management system. Their support in raising awareness and imposing strict rules and penalties to maintain proper waste segregation will not only empower the local recycling industry, but also reflect well as people now want to recycle, but the issue prevails in collection efforts.

Therefore, it is vital that the local communities and the Government take a strong stance in handling the country’s waste management issue, as the long term economic and environmental benefits definitively outweigh the complications and issues created by either neglecting the concerns in the local waste management and recycling sector, or simply chucking the problem under the rug with another ‘ban’. It is critical that waste management efforts are strengthened so that waste plastic makes its way into the recycling economy. An easy solution to the plastic waste issue is also to have plastic go back into the system. However, this is currently prohibited in the country as it has been gazetted as mentioned above. Allowing recycled material to be used in food-grade packaging will further increase the demand for plastic recycling, a critical priority in our island nation.

(The writer is the chairman at CMC Engineering Export GmbH, a member of the Melchers Group, engaged in importing an extensive range of technical products from quality suppliers from Europe and Asia, and is also a Past President of the Institute of Packaging)



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CBSL adopting ‘as and when needed’ stance on foreign reserves

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by Sanath Nanayakkare

The country’s foreign reserves will be added to, and utilised as and when needed, Dhammika Nanayakkara, Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) said at a virtual forum hosted by the Central Bank on Monday.

“The Central Bank has taken many steps to have some standby arrangements with some friendly countries and also some other avenues ‘as and when’ we need reserves in foreign currency, and to utilise them ‘as and when’ the need arises,” Central Bank DG said.

“Referring to the recent bilateral currency swap agreement with the People’s Bank of China (PboC) amounting to CNY 10 billion (approximately US$ 1.5 billion), he said,”This agreement was entered into with a view to promoting bilateral trade and direct investment for economic development of the two countries, and to be used for other purposes agreed upon by both parties. I think we first entered into this kind of an agreement with the PboC in 2014. And it served as a standby arrangement. We hadn’t used a cent of that facility. Similarly this swap also could serve as a standby arrangement. We will try to make use of this facility but only if the need arises. Otherwise it could serve as a standby arrangement without any money being utilised during the period the contract is valid for.”

Explaining further he said: “As for the terms of the swap with the PboC, it can’t be swapped into USD.. But it is not completely stopped though, because there are three purposes the money can be used for. 1. Enhancing bilateral investment between the two countries 2. financing the trade flows 3. Any other purpose agreed to by both the providing part and the requesting party.”

“That covers a broader range of utilisation provided that both parties agree to it. That’s where we are in terms of utilising the swap facility.”

“It’s publicly known that we have some standby arrangements with PboC and also we are discussing with friendly countries such as India, Bangladesh, Qatar, Oman; a number of countries in different ways as to how we can ensure some standby arrangements,”

“If you look at the government’s policies, especially export-oriented domestic economy, increasing FDIs through non-debt creating inflows. I think all these things will definitely provide the much needed cashflow to service the debt obligations. The government has clearly mentioned that it has no intention of increasing foreign currency debt obligations going forward. Gradually the government wants to bring it down so that it can rely more on domestic borrowings,” the Deputy Governor said.

Meanwhile, the government of Republic of Korea and the government of Sri Lanka signed a new framework arrangement recently for the period of 2020-2022 to obtain loans up to an aggregate commitment amount of USD 500 million to finance projects mutually agreed.

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Decline in labour force in 2020 first half- Part III

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Extracts from the Central Bank of Sri Lanka report, ‘Recent Economic Developments: Highlights of 2020 and Prospects for 2021’

 

Continued from yesterday

Meanwhile, several rounds of discussions were held in 2020 to determine the possibility of increasing the basic daily wage of workers in the plantation sector to Rs. 1,000.

= Nominal wages of the informal private sector employees, as measured by the informal private sector wage rate index (2012=100), increased by 3.5 per cent during the period from January to August 2020 compared to the same period of 2019. Nominal wages of employees in all sub-sectors, namely, agriculture, industry and services increased by 4.1 per cent, 2.9 per cent and 3.9 per cent, respectively, during the period from January to August 2020. However, real wages in the informal private sector declined by 2.8 per cent during the period from January to August 2020 compared to the corresponding period of the previous year.

The negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic amidst the persisting structural issues led the labour market indicators to deteriorate during the first half of 2020. As per the statistics reported by the Department of Census and Statistics, the working age population increased during the first half of 2020 compared to the corresponding period of the previous year, led by the significant increase in economically inactive population amidst a comparatively lesser decline in the economically active population.

Accordingly, the Labour Force Participation Rate (LFPR), which is the ratio of the labour force to the working age population, declined during the first half of 2020 compared to the same period of 2019. A considerable decline was observed in the employed population as well. The unemployment rate, which is the share of unemployed population to the labour force, increased notably during the first half of 2020 compared to the corresponding period of the previous year. Continuing the trend observed in the recent past, unemployment rates among females, youth and educationally qualified persons continued to remain at high levels during the first half of 2020.

The labour force, which is the economically active population,3 declined to 8.470 million in the first half of 2020 from 8.603 million in the corresponding period of the previous year, recording a decline of 1.5 per cent. This decline in labour force was solely driven by the significant decline of 6.0 per cent in the female labour force during the reference period. In contrast, the male labour force, which accounts for the highest share of the labour force, increased by 0.9 per cent during the first half of 2020 compared to the corresponding period of the previous year. In terms of sector wise labour force, declines were observed across all sectors namely urban, estate and rural sectors during the reference period mainly due to the considerable drops in the female labour force. Meanwhile, the male labour force in the urban and estate sectors also recorded marginal declines, though the male labour force in the rural sector recorded an increase.

In line with the decline of the labour force, LFPR declined to 50.6 per cent during the first half of 2020 from 52.6 per cent recorded in the first half of 2019. This considerable decline was mainly driven by the significant increase observed in economically inactive females during the reference period. Consequently, the female LFPR declined to 32.0 per cent in the first half of 2020 from 34.7 per cent in the corresponding period of 2019. The male LFPR also declined to 72.1 per cent in the first half of 2020 from 73.4 per cent in the first half of 2019 due to the higher increase in economically inactive males compared to the increase in economically active males. Accordingly, the gender gap in LFPRs soared to 40.1 percentage points in the first half of 2020 from 38.7 percentage points in the corresponding period of the previous year affirming the persisting issues related to low female labour force participation towards the economic growth in the country.

The employed population4 declined by 2.4 per cent to 7.998 million in the first half of 2020 compared to 8.193 million recorded in the corresponding period of 2019. This decline was led by both industry and services sectors, as an increase in employed population was observed in the agriculture sector. Within the industry sector, declines in employed population were observed across all sub-sectors namely, mining and quarrying, manufacturing and construction, electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning supply, water supply, sewerage, waste management and remediation activities, while within the services sector prominent declines in employed population were observed in wholesale and retail trade, repair of motor vehicles and motorcycles, administrative and support service activities, and public administration and defence, compulsory social security sub-sectors. These declines in employment in industry and services sectors were also reflected in the employment indices of manufacturing and services purchasing managers’ index surveys conducted by the Central Bank of Sri Lanka in the first half of 2020. Meanwhile, continuing the trend observed in the recent past, the services sector, which accounted for 46.2 per cent of the total employment, remained as the foremost employment generator followed by the industry and agriculture sectors contributing to 27.0 per cent and 26.8 per cent of the total employment, respectively, during the first half of 2020. yy In terms of the status of employment, the employed population in all categories declined during the first half of 2020 compared to the first half of 2019. With regard to employment status, the employed population is categorised into two major categories, namely, waged and salaried workers (employees) and the self-employed.

The employees category is further categorised into public sector and private sector, while the self-employed category is categorised into employers, own account workers and contributing family workers. Among these categories, a prominent decline was observed in private sector employees followed by public sector employees.

Nevertheless, with the government programme to provide jobs for 60,000 unemployed graduates and for 100,000 persons in the lowest strata of income earners in Sri Lanka with the objective of eradicating poverty, in line with the government policy declaration enunciated as “Saubagyaye Dakma”, public sector employment is expected to increase during the second half of the year.

In line with the decline in the employed population, the unemployed population increased significantly by 14.8 per cent to 0.471 million during the first half of 2020 compared to 0.410 million in the corresponding period of the previous year attributable to the negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. This increase in the unemployed population was mainly driven by unemployed females who contributed to 58 per cent of the total increase 4 70

Accordingly, the increase in unemployed females was recorded at 16.0 per cent, while the increase in unemployed males was recorded at 13.4 per cent during the reference period. yy In line with the increase in the unemployed population,5 the unemployment rate increased to 5.6 per cent in the first half of 2020 compared to 4.8 per cent recorded in the first half of 2019. Accordingly, the unemployment rate of females increased significantly to 8.9 per cent in the first half of 2020 from 7.2 per cent in the corresponding period of the previous year.

The unemployment rate of males increased to 3.9 per cent in the first half of 2020 from 3.4 per cent in the corresponding period of the previous year. yy Unemployment rates among all age categories increased during the first half of 2020 compared to the same period of the previous year. It is noteworthy that among these age categories, youth (aged 15-24 years) unemployment, which continued to remain at a high level, increased substantially to 27.3 per cent during the first half of 2020 from 20.8 per cent in the corresponding period of the previous year. Moreover, unemployed youth contributed to 98 per cent of the total increase in the unemployed population. More than a quarter of the youth labour force being unemployed bring to the surface the issues related to underutilisation of the most productive human capital towards the economic growth of the country. 5 Persons available and/or looking for work, and who did not work and took steps to find a job during the last four weeks and are ready to accept a job given a work opportunity within next two weeks are said to be unemployed. yy In terms of education level, unemployment rates increased among all educational categories during the first half of 2020 compared to the corresponding period of the previous year.

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World Bank strengthens engagement in Sri Lanka

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The World Bank launched public consultations to update its Systematic Country Diagnostic (SCD) in Sri Lanka. This online platform will enable the Bank to engage with the Sri Lankan public and development partners and seek their views on the most pressing development opportunities and challenges for the country.

The SCD is a country-specific report compiled by the World Bank Group in close consultation with the respective national authorities, stakeholders and the public. This report forms the basis of the Country Partnership Framework, the strategy which outlines how the World Bank Group’s engagement with the country can best contribute towards achieving the goals of ending absolute poverty and boosting shared prosperity in a sustainable manner.

“We are keen to hear from a wide range of development stakeholders – the government, private sector, citizens from different provinces, think tanks and civil society groups,” said Faris. H. Hadad-Zervos, World Bank Country Director for Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka. “Their inputs will help the SCD to focus on areas that will have the maximum impact in fostering greener, resilient and inclusive recovery and growth for Sri Lanka.”

The 2021 SCD will be an update on the previous SCD, taking into account the new and pressing issues stemming from the unprecedented health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The online surveys are open from May 6, 2021 to May 20, 2021, and they are in Sinhala, Tamil and English. This process is complemented by focus group discussions with representation from public and private sectors, as well as civil society organizations. The findings of the consultations will be reflected in the next update of the SCD.

The current World Bank portfolio in Sri Lanka consists of 19 ongoing projects, with a total commitment value of US$2.33 billion in a variety of sectors including transport, urban, agriculture, water, education, and health.

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