BAN ON PLASTIC
Why is it that despite some form of ban on polythene carry bags in Twenty five Indian states/UTs its implementation is often lax, and plastic–which takes hundreds of years to decompose–continues to be used, polluting India’s water bodies and landfills? Even if we leave out the general places where plastics are gathered and for which nobody wants to own the responsibility and accountability, we, everybody in the society just by looking around our home will realize that about 50% of their household goods are made of plastic. India’s per capita, per year consumption of plastic is around 11 kg. Though in comparison it is far less if we take account of American consumers who use 100 kg on an average. But if we take the total of plastic India is one of the largest consumers and generators of plastic in the world.
But the problem with this issue is that whenever various state governments, as well as central governments, take steps to curb the growing menace of virtually indestructible plastic waste that is choking our planet, the govt. itself has under some form of compulsions to issue a string of exemptions either to appease the plastic factory owners, small retailers or otherwise. We can cite an example of the recent plastic ban in Maharashtra. Just after imposing a ban on single-use plastic in the state, the govt. came out with an extension of three months for small retailers to phase out the single-use plastic. Then with the approaching celebrations of Ganesh Chaturthi, another notice was announced hurriedly to exempt thermocol so that the pandals can be decorated in a lavish manner. To club with it the fishing community were given exemptions for using plastic for storing fish. Other exemptions that followed were plastic medical packaging, food grade plastic, the plastic used for handling solid waste, plastic bins, plastic used in exports and so on.
Another front that claimed exemptions are the big major e-tailers like Amazon and Flipkart, no doubt the govt. yielded allowing them to continue to use plastic for packaging, provided they set up a mechanism to collect the waste (which the govt. have no ways to monitor).
Thus after two years of centre’s notification of 2016 plastic control rules, the implementation has not even started. Rather another amendment in the rule came in 2018 in which multilayered plastic such as plastic used in juice cartons which were banned earlier is now allowed provided energy can be recovered from it or it can be put to alternative use.
If see the conditions in other states, in Jammu and Kashmir, many vendors have not heard of the three-month-old ban. In Karnataka and Punjab, where a ban is in place since 2016, it remains ineffective in most parts, as there is widespread availability of and demand for polythene bags. In Arunachal Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, there is confusion about permissible grades of polythene. In Uttarakhand, the use is “gradually fading out”, experts say, while in Rajasthan, awareness campaigns seem to be paying off.
Jammu & Kashmir and Maharashtra became the latest banned region of polythene carry bags–in January and March 2018, respectively.
Using a plastic bag can attract fines–from Rs 500 to Rs 25,000– and storage and distribution can lead to imprisonment up to five years. But lacks implementation and monitoring.
In May 2012, two Supreme Court judges, Justice Singhvi and Justice Mukhopadhaya, said that “the next generation will be threatened with something more serious than the atom bomb” unless a “total ban on plastic is put in place”.
India generates 5.6 million tonnes of plastic waste annually, and the country accounts for 60% of plastic waste dumped into the world’s oceans every year, estimates suggest. Three of the world’s ten rivers which carry 90% of plastic to the world’s oceans are in India–the Indus, the Ganga and the Brahmaputra.
What is needed is the holistic approach not only from the governmental pavilion but also from people of India with a firmness of resolve in committing to reduce plastic usage, generating a responsible behavior on the part of producers as well as consumers of plastic and bring about a mental acceptance to alternatives to plastic, such as cotton or jute bags, are often expensive. In fact, India is home to jute, one of the world’s best packaging material (100% biodegradable) has long been left to its deepest decline by cheaper plastic availability and governmental apathetic policy.
We need a social change. It is outstandingly visible in the small mountainous state of Sikkim where the policy change is backed by massive awareness campaigns and the efforts of Sikkimese to save their future generations. All the Indians have to learn the great lesson of how to discard plastic completely from them.