TAKING a strong stance on the adverse effects of plastic on health and the environment, the Himachal Pradesh High Court has ordered a statewide ban on the sale of junk food in non-biodegradable packets. The ban, effective from April 1, will not cover essential items such as edible oil and milk.
In its January 10 order, a division Bench said, “We are not in any manner issuing directions that such items are banned because that is not within the purview of the court but if we follow the Himachal Pradesh Non-Biodegradable (Control) Act of 1995, the least we can do is to direct that these harmful items should be sold only in bio-degradable packing.” It said such packing might increase cost of products, “but it would be worth paying that extra money to protect environment and health of the children”.
The order came in response to three petitions filed in 2010 to reduce indiscriminate use of plastic. At that time the court had set up a committee to suggest ways to reduce use of plastic packaging in food items. The committee, headed by the then additional chief secretary to the state, however, failed to follow the order. Consequently, another committee was formed. After much dilly-dallying, the committee gave the list in January this year (see box). In its order, the court said the list is not final and more items could be included. The next hearing is on March 15.
| What junk
Before giving its verdict, the Himachal Pradesh High Court had constituted a committee to make a list of junk food sold in non-biodegradable packets. It includes chips, biscuits, namkeen, candy, wafers, chewing gum, ice-cream, chocolates, noodles, cornflakes, pizzas, French fries, soft drinks, fruit beverages and cakes. The committee said these items can lead to obesity, diabetes, high BP, cardio vascular problems and colon cancer.
The order has evoked mixed reactions. Ali Raza Rizvi, Principal Secretary, Health and Family Welfare, Himachal Pradesh, says it will help improve people’s health, while the state environment ministry, responsible for managing plastic waste, chose not to comment. Prem Kumar, additional chief secretary (Home, Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs), says, “We are consulting the law department to look into the provision of filing a special leave petition in the Supreme Court.” A number of products termed as junk food are manufactured in Delhi. It remains to be seen whether the manufacturer will specifically make goods for the state, adds Kumar.
In 2009, PepsiCo had introduced chips in biodegradable packs, but within a year it reverted to plastic, saying it was not received well by the consumers.
“Biodegradeable packing does not ensure durability of products and might lead to loss,” points out Nikhil Sood, a wholesaler of chocolates and chips in Shimla. Such a packing is not easily available. Though controlling plastic use will be good for the environment, it will cause inconvenience to customers,” says K L Radhakrishnan, chief editor of journal Indian Food Packer, mouthpiece of All India Food Processors’ Association in Delhi. He adds, “The health of the children is linked to their food habits. It will require much more effort to spread awareness on balanced food habits.” Vipin Kumar, an Uttarakhand-based expert on waste, says the alternate ways to pack food items like tetra packs and tin suggested by the court could also create problem, as their disposal is difficult. “Instead, the administration should levy tax on manufacturing companies and that money could be used to dispose of the non-biodegradable wrappers,” he suggests.
Bharati Chaturvedi of Delhi’s Chintan Environment and Research Action Group agrees. The authorities should push for paper and corrugated fiberboard for packing, she says. Since transporting these products in paper-based packing over long distances would be difficult, the government would have to promote local production of items, she adds.
Inputs from Avimuktesh Bhardwaj