Is implementation of plastic ban in various states confined to paper?

No takers for recycling of many single-use plastic products, says report

By Banjot Kaur
Published: Wednesday 19 February 2020
Photo: Vikas Choudhary / CSE

The bans on single-use plastics (SUPs) are not being implemented by four of India's most populous cities, Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai, a new survey has shown. 

As many as 28 states in India have imposed full or partial bans on SUPs. However, 83 per cent respondents of the survey by New Delhi-based non-profit Toxics Link said they were still using plastic carry bags.

Incidentally, plastic bags have been the first SUPs in the list to be banned. As many as 32 per cent of the survey’s respondents used carry bags frequently, 37 per cent occasionally and 14 per cent every time.

But it was not clear from the survey as to whether the respondents were using plastic bags less than 50 microns or not since some of the states have banned only those bags which have a thickness less than this. Also, the respondents could have no idea as to what the thickness of the bags they were using, was.

The other big thing to go off shelves in some of the states according to bans announced by them was disposable cutlery. But did it really?

As many as 90 per cent respondents of the survey said they had been part of events where such single-use cutlery was used. Even food-delivery firms remained one of its biggest users. 

But why could these bans not be implemented? “The administration was enthusiastic as the bans were announced in the respective states. However, as time passed, there was hardly any effort to see that the ban was implemented. The violators were hardly caught and even if they were caught, they were rarely punished,” Priti Mahesh, chief programme co-ordinator with Toxics Link, told Down To Earth.

The other big problem was that of alternatives to SUPs. The alternatives had been very much available but they had not got the push they ought to have, despite the fact that they had good traction among the respondents to the survey.

For example, the survey found that cloth and bio-plastic bags were liked by 59 per cent respondents as alternatives to plastic carry bags. About 32 per cent people wanted to go back to leaf-based cutlery as an alternative to disposable cutlery. In fact, more than 95 per cent people said they would want a strict ban on single-use cutlery. 

“When there is clear inclination from people that they are up for alternatives to both plastic bags and single-use cutlery, it is the job of the government to act. It should provide tax rebate to alternatives and introduce green tax for single-use plastic products. If these industry measures are not used, the momentum against SUPs will die down,” Mahesh said. 

It is just not the cutlery and plastic bags that are adding to the menace of SUPs. The e-commerce platforms are doing their bit too.

As many as 70 per cent respondents of the survey said that they felt that the packaging was much more than what was required. A tiny, small product comes wrapped not just in a big box but with air bubbles.

The e-commerce firms have been putting the onus on consumer demand for the same. However, the survey clearly said this was a myth. As many as 91 per cent of respondents said they would choose less plastic packaging if given a choice. 

SUP recycling an issue

While the usage of SUPs is a concern, an equally significant part is their recycling. Toxics Link also did a survey among important recycling markets of Delhi, including Tikri Kalan, Ghazipur, Nangloi and others. And, their worst fear came true.

There were absolutely no takers among these recyclers for multilayer packaging. This packaging is used in packets for biscuits, chips, namkeens, noodles, tobacco products and a host of other Fast Moving Consumer Goods.

In multilayer packaging, several layers of packaging is done with ultra-thin layers to sustain the freshness of the product. Currently, no technology is available in India to recycle it. The multi-layered wrapper invariably end up in landfills or litter the roads.

“If not for all these products, we can use paper packaging for a few. In case of some others, tin packaging can be used. I agree a lot more research needs to be done to find out alternatives in this area but not many companies are ready to invest in this research,” Mahesh said, adding the government also had to push for this. 

Medicine wrappers, PP products, tubes of personal care products also found very few takers among recyclers. 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi reiterated the commitment of the Indian government on October 2, 2019, to phase out SUPs by 2022. “But if you see the implementation so far of various state bans, it does not seem we are on track. More significantly, the government has not given any timelines or a roadmap as to how it is going to do so,” Satish Sinha, Associate Director, Toxics Link, said.  

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