Driving the plastic out
With Tamil Nadu, India now has four states standing against single-use plastics – pursuing the ambitious goal of enforcing a country-wide ban by 2022
Tamil Nadu, on January 1, 2019, became the fourth state in India to implement a ban on single-use plastics. Maharashtra was the first to do it on March 23, 2018, Telangana followed the feat in June and Himachal Pradesh in July. But most Indian states, or almost all, have banned plastic bags.
Single-use plastics are disposable plastic items that are commonly used for packaging and include items intended to be used only once before they are thrown away or recycled.
Let's look at how effectively have these states implemented the ban, which was bound to bring with itself a lifestyle and resource shift.
When the Tamil Nadu government banned single-use plastic from January 1, 2019, the hotel industry in the state went into a tizzy as they were still scrambling for alternatives.
"We understand that single-use plastic is harmful to the environment and so, in principle, support this ban. However, we have no alternatives. Till the government comes up with alternatives, it could have given some relaxation," secretary of Tamil Nadu Hotels Association R Srinivasan told Down To Earth. "I hear some research is going on for cardboard-based packaging for food. But it is in nascent stages. The governments must support such initiatives if they are really serious about solutions," he added. Similarly, plastic manufacturers of the state are also up in arms.
To allay the fears, Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) issued a fresh advisory on January 1, 2019, to all the concerned industries asking them to follow certain measures to comply with the ban. It asked all industries to put up a display board made of metal (not in PVC Flex) with a pictorial representation of the banned one-time use and throwaway plastic items at the entrance of the industry to inform visitors about the implementation of the ban. It also suggested that they declare their premise as "plastic-free zone" and stick prominent stickers for it.
The advisory added that awareness programmes about the ban and alternatives to the banned plastics should be conducted for employees and people living in 10 km radius of the industry. Also, TNPCB advised to not use banned plastic items in canteens, offices, official meetings, etc. The corporate social responsibility funds can be used to raise money for all this, said the government advisory.
The Tamil Nadu government's notification, however, provides for a few exemptions, including the use of plastic bags for export in Special Economic Zones, plastic bags and sheets used in forestry and horticulture nurseries, plastic bags/sheets used to pack dairy products and carry bags bearing a label 'compostable'.
This ban was implemented after plastic waste began causing blockage of sewers and drains apart from resulting in pollution of water bodies.
Maharashtra became the first state to ban the use of all kinds of single-use plastics. On March 23, 2018, it announced the ban on manufacture, usage, transport, distribution, wholesale and retail sale, storage and import of plastic bags with handle and without handle, and the disposable products manufactured from plastic and thermocol (polystyrene) such as single-use disposable plastic products used for packaging food in hotels, non-woven polypropylene bags used to store liquid, plastic packaging of fresh food items and food grain material, etc.
The notification was modified on April 11, 2018, and the use of PET bottles was allowed. But this had a rider that PET bottle manufacturers will develop buy back depository mechanism and ensure their collection for recycling by setting up collection centres, reverse vending machines, crushing machines , etc., within three months of the published amendment in places such as malls, multiplexes, hotels, shops beaches, etc.
However, talking to DTE, Pune-based activist Harshad Borde, who has been tracking the implementation of the ban, said, "While it is true that we don't see carry bags anymore or food wrapped with single-use plastic layer, but the fact remains that the commitment of PET bottle industry to set up reverse vending machines in popular public places is yet to become a common sight. They got away with the ban but their commitments are yet to be seen on the ground."
Another state which banned the use of many kinds of single-use plastics was Himachal Pradesh.
In a notification issued on July 6, 2018, the state government banned the use of plastic carry bags irrespective of their thickness and sizes and all plastic items that have one-time use and are made of non-biodegradable materials. Anybody found violating the ban could be fined Rs 500-Rs 25,000.
"The ban is being implemented properly, at least in Shimla. Plastic plates or cups or tumblers are not in use and even polybags are also not being used. Tourists at times do carry polybags or thermocol cutlery to Shimla either due to ignorance about the ban or otherwise. So they are either left with a warning by the police or health officials or are fined," said a source in the state.
The Telangana government also announced a ban on single-use plastics in June 2018.
According to the notification issued on June 14, 2018, the ban covers drinking water plastic and tetra bottles, single-use straws, plastic/styrofoam tea cups/containers, plastic below 50 micron or plastic coated items and any other forms of single-use/banned plastic. The notification stresses the fact that all the offices of urban local bodies must strictly not use these products whatsoever at all. For the general public, the use of polybags was strictly banned while it was advised that the single-use plastic usage is contained.
Ramanjaneyulu GV, an activist in the state, said, "The usage has definitely come down but all the plastic stuff is still there. But people themselves are now reluctant to use them because of environmental concerns."
Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka have also banned products which qualify as single-use plastics but haven't used the term in their notifications. While Karnataka's notification came in 2016, Uttar Pradesh announced the ban on August 15, 2018.
Sikkim was way ahead of all these states, but only when it comes to plastic bags, which the state banned in 1998. In 2016, it announced a ban on the use of plastic bottles, Styrofoam and thermocol disposable plates and cutlery, not a blanket single-use plastic ban.
The Bihar government also imposed a similar ban from October 25, 2018. Bihar's ban was confined to use of plastic carry bags. The manufacture, import, store, distribution, selling and transport was banned. The only exemption granted to this ban was the use of plastic carry bags less than 50 microns for storage of bio-medical waste.
Andhra Pradesh made a similar announcement in October 2018, as did Assam and Meghalaya in August 2018. With this, there's almost no Indian state that has not banned the use of plastic carry bags, at least. Also, Odisha, on September 8, 2018, banned polythene bags of all thickness and sizes, PET bottles of less than 500ml capacity, single-use plastic cutlery and thermocol decorative items.
"All these initiatives sound good as India has announced to phase out single-use plastics by 2022. However, are these bans implemented in entirety? Many reports suggest they are not. Therefore, the issue is not just about announcing bans of one kind or another. It is about creating a citizen's movement against all single-use plastics," Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives' (GAIA) Pratibha Sharma told DTE.
(The views expressed are strictly personal)