No ban on single-use plastics, to be phased out by 2022

Prime Minister Narendra Modi reiterates a commitment that India made last year

By Banjot Kaur
Published: Wednesday 02 October 2019

India would phase out single-use plastics by 2022, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced at the Sabarmati river front in Ahmedabad on October 2, 2019.

A blanket ban though would not take place, contrary to expectations that were raised after the prime minister’s mention of single-use plastics on August 15, 2019.

Then, he had asked the people of India to free the country from single-use plastics and also said a significant announcement to this effect would be made on October 2, the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. 

In his speech on October 2, Modi said the phasing out was necessary not just for the welfare of the environment but also aquatic life which was being affected by the consumption of single-use plastics.

He also said the plastic blocked drains and roads, creating many civic problems. “We have to build an andolan (movement) to induce behavioural change which was at the heart of Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy,” the prime minister said. 

The statement that India would phase out single-use plastics by 2022 was a reiteration of the commitment that the Indian government made in 2018.

On World Environment Day (June 5), 2018, the then environment minister Harsh Vardhan had announced that single-use plastics would be phased out by 2020. Later, that deadline was revised to 2022. 

Industry’s concerns

The worst form of single-use plastics is the multi-layered packaging used in sachets for packing and storing tobacco products such as gutkha. Many other eatables like chocolates, biscuits, chips and liquid food products are packed in them.

Reportedly, after Modi’s call on August 15, this industry had raised a major objection, saying that in the absence of any imminent alternative, their sales might drop sharply.

More importantly, industry bodies like the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) had raised major concerns. 

A ban on single-use plastics would have multi-factoral effects on industry, a study by FICCI had said. Such a ban would increase the price of most FMCG products as manufacturers would try and shift to alternative packaging.

The study had said a ban would wipe out various low price point products (those that cost less than Rs 5 such as shampoo sachets, detergent pouches, biscuit packets and others) as production at these price points would become unviable.

Such price points play a significant role in allowing first-time consumers to experience categories at an affordable price, and play a key role in serving the rural market.

FICCI had also said the Rs 53,000 crore plus segment of the plastic manufacturing industry would be hit because of a ban, leading to job losses. Thirteen lakh personnel across 10,000 firms would immediately lose their jobs. The food processing industry would suffer from a revenue loss of Rs 90,000 crore.

It is believed that after such adverse reactions, the government decided to be cautious and instead of imposing a blanket ban, it decided to reiterate that India would phase out single-use plastics.

International focus

After his August 15 announcement to initiate a movement against single-use plastics, Modi re-emphasised it on several fora including the United Nations General Assembly in New York City. There, he said a major campaign was afoot in India against single-use plastics.

Also, in the G-7 summit held from August 24-26 at Biarritz, France, Modi said India was making great strides in this direction.

At the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, held from September 2-13 in New Delhi, Modi said India would lead global efforts in getting rid of the menace called single-use plastics.

A slew of bans

After the August 15 announcement, several public and private organisations and state and Central government departments initiated moves to ban single-use plastics. 

In Odisha, the ban came into effect from October 2.  

According to the notification issued on September 29, 2018, by the Odisha government, the manufacture, sale, trade, import, storage, transportation, use or distribution of any of the items — polythene carry bags, polyethylene terephthalate drinking bottles of less than 200 ml capacity, single disposable cutleries such as plates, dishes, spoons, cups, glasses, forks, bowls, pouches for selling liquid products except for milk and decorative materials like flowers — are banned.

Vendors shall not be allowed to use polythene sheets of less than 50 microns thickness for storing or transporting any commodity excluding garbage and cups for milk products like ice-cream and curd, the notification had said.

Polythene packing for materials used in plant nurseries, medicines, blood transfusion bags and other healthcare sector items has been exempted.

Besides the Odisha government, the governments of Goa and Andhra Pradesh too announced bans on single-use plastics last month. The Assam administration banned their usage on the premises of the state secretariat. The Kolkata Municipal Corporation’s ban also came into effect from October 2. 

The Airports Authority of India has declared 55 out 134 airports as single-use plastics free. The University Grants Commission has also written to all universities to initiate a bid to make their premises free of them. 

Some Central government ministries like food and consumers affairs have announced that single-use plastics would not be used in their premises. ITC group of hotels and the Rajasthan High Court have made similar announcements. 

Even before Modi gave his call from the Red Fort, several state governments had announced a ban on single-use plastics such as Maharashtra, Telangana, Himachal Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.

They had announced a complete ban under which plastic and tetra water bottles, single-use straws, plastic and styrofoam tea cups and containers were prohibited for use.

Some others such as Bihar banned only polythene bags. More than 20 states had issued to ban single-use plastics of one or all types before August 15, 2019.

No definition

However, the major bone of contention remains the fact that there is no central definition of what comprises single-use plastics, which may adversely affect any sort of ban.

The prime minister defined them as plastics which are used only once and then discarded, on October 2. At times, it is misunderstood to mean only polythene bags. For any ban to be successful, we need a clear definition of single-use.

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