Elephants foraging on a rubbish dump in Sri Lanka - courtesy Phys.org

Plastic pollution in Asian elephant range states

October 2018

Plastic pollution is a major threat to our seas but the failure to dispose of this waste properly is also having an impact on the world's largest land mammals. We've done a quick sweep of the facts and stats around this emotive subject:

Nine of the thirteen elephant range state countries are ranked within the top 20 countries globally for mismanaging their plastic waste (this includes littering)(2010)(three countries have no data available).

East Asia and the Pacific has the highest level of mismanaged plastic waste. From the graphs below China produces an extortionate amount more plastic waste, more than most other countries in the range states. This is most likely due to the high population, as the amount of plastic used per person per day is relatively low, and at the time of survey (2010) countries were importing plastic waste to China, (in 2017 China banned imports of plastic waste). Over 70% of China's waste is mismanaged in comparison to the USA3.

Unlike humans, animals are unable to discern between what’s edible and what’s not, and often plastic contains food waste, or resembles something that would be food. Once ingested plastic can get stuck in the animals’ throats, causing suffocation, or can sit in an animal’s stomach causing it to feel ill and preventing it for eating resulting in the animal dying from starvation1.

Elephants, like many animals, are attracted to food waste; however, most food waste ends up in a plastic bag with a knot at the top and it has been observed in elephants and other animals that they ingest the plastic to get to its contents.

Wild elephants in Sri Lanka have taken up residence and scavenge in rubbish dumps, displaying behaviours more like captive elephants waiting for the tractor to deliver new rubbish and not foraging naturally4. Recently, six elephants in Sri Lanka have been found dead with large amounts of plastic in their stomachs, there are no fences to keep the elephants out of the rubbish dumps. However, authorities have vowed to install fencing2. A female elephant in Kerala, India was found dead after ingesting a 3-metre long plastic sheet in early 2018, this was the first mammal death due to plastic in the area of Sabarimala after a total plastic ban in 2016 when a Sambhar Deer was found dead due to plastic6.

Countries are taking action, China has banned the import of plastic waste, Sri Lanka has banned the use of plastic bags, cups and plastics to tackle the plastic crisis5. Sabarimala, India has enforced a total plastic ban in the area; however, this has not stopped the littering6.

1. https://www.aquarium.co.za/blog/entry/the-plastic-problem-how-does-plastic-pollution-affect-wildlife

2. https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/six-elephants-die-after-eating-12465387

3. https://ourworldindata.org/plastic-pollution

4. https://phys.org/news/2017-09-sri-lanka-plastic-garbage-crisis.html

5. https://phys.org/news/2018-05-sri-lanka-elephants-plastic-danger.html

6. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/thiruvananthapuram/plastic-waste-kills-elephant-near-pamba/articleshow/62811393.cms

Data for charts, take from https://ourworldindata.org/
Click here to find out all the plastic you can and cannot recycle in the UK
Click here for a USEFUL LINK  from the BBC's Plastic Watch
Photos courtesy of www.phys.org