Health ministry invites bids for plastic-wrapped mosquito nets

Environmentalists oppose; say plastic not good for environment

By Moyna
Published: Thursday 24 May 2012

mosquitoThe Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has invited bids for supply of about 10 million mosquito nets under its National Vector Borne Disease Control Programme. Environmentalists are protesting a requirement specified in the tender: the nets are to be wrapped in plastic sheets at the time of supply.

In March, the ministry had issued a tender asking for long-lasting, insecticide-treated nets. The bidding is scheduled on June 14. While the tender mentions that the bundles of the mosquito nets are to be wrapped in low density polythene film of 60µg (microgramme) thickness or “any other suitable material as agreed to between the purchaser and the supplier,” officials in the ministry state that plastic is preferred. They reason that once received the mosquito nets will not be immediately distributed and plastic would increase their shelf life.

   Over 300 tonnes plastic    waste will be generated 
Total Numbers of bed-nets to be supplied: 10,243,800 (180x30 sq cm)
The bed nets are to be packaged with low-density polyethylene film
At an average 30 per pack, 3,41,460 such poly films could be used in this project for supply of nets
These would have to be recycled after the consignment reaches the purchaser/ agency
Roughly 341 metric tonnes poly pack waste would be generated. The waste needs to be treated/recycled immediately as it may contain hazardous pesticide residues
Source: Toxics Link
Bharti Chaturvedi, director of Chintan, a non-profit which works with wastepickers, says prevention of malaria is an important step for the ministry but concern for the environment should not be left behind. “The ministry has floated a tender for 10 million mosquito bed nets and each net has to be packed in plastic bags. When distributed, these nets should reach the end user without the plastic to make sure they are not resold by the users.”

Chintan suggests use of bio-degradable, tamper and weather proof material for bulk packaging of 20, 30 or 50 nets in order to minimise damage. Though the thickness of the plastic packages (60µg) is within permissible levels, Chintan Advocacy manager Pratiksha Gogoi says, this tender will produce approximately one extra plastic bag for every Indian, or 10 million trashed plastic bags. Most of these nets will go to the rural areas in states like Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha and Maharashtra where sanitation problems persist. “This extra manufacture of plastics would add to the problems of drainage and consequent health issues among the rural poor, where waste collection systems do not exist. Besides, plastic bags themselves accumulate water and offer a breeding ground to mosquitoes,” Gogoi adds.

   Net concerns
Who takes the responsibility for final disposal of materials? As per the extended producer responsibility provision in e-waste rules, the manufacturer is responsible for collection, segregation and disposal/recycling
Synthetic pyrethroids are to be used in the bed nets. These are highly poisonous and some of them are said to be endocrine disruptors. For example, Laxman Rekha has only 1% cypermethrin, but that is enough to kill household insects
Possibility of insecticides leaching into the packaging material and subsequent cross-contamination of recycled products
Occupational safety at all levels of handling of material. Workers usually do not wear protective gear
Instructions for net users
Malaria and dengue can be better controlled by investing in sanitation and awareness. Physical prevention like normal nets and after-care must be second priority
The ministry move can be seen as a contradiction of government claims and actions for a healthier environment. Many cities in the country have banned or restricted plastic bags because of difficulty in handling them and the health problems they cause. Gopal Krishna of non-profit Toxics Watch Alliance says several years of campaign and protests against plastic does not seem to have reached the ministry's ears. Krishna suggests that the ministry should make the manufacturer responsible for ensuring proper disposal of the bags through extended producer responsibility. “The biggest concern is that this plastic should not reach the open dump-sites or open environments and should be disposed properly through authorised channels.”




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