Kerala has taken a bold step with its ban on single-use plastics

Whether it will be successful remains to be seen; however, it is a praiseworthy step nonetheless 

By Rashmi Shrivastav
Published: Friday 10 January 2020

The state government of Kerala has banned the manufacturing, sale, storage and transportation of single-use plastic products like carry bags, disposable cups, straws, PET bottles, etc from January 1, 2020.

This key decision was taken at a cabinet meeting chaired by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on November 21, 2019, after taking into account the environmental and health issues the state faces given that it generates close to 45,000 tonnes of plastic waste a year.

Kerala had already imposed restrictions on the use and sale of plastic less than 50 microns in 2018 and facilitated its proper collection, segregation and recycling. However, that decision's robust implementation and availability of affordable alternatives remained a challenge.

With the current notification, the governing body has not only listed the banned products (branded and non-branded as well as compostable alternatives) but has also delineated and recommended substitutes in their places respectively (as represented in the table below), as part of a broader strategy toward more sustainable production.

The notification also reiterated that the government will impose a fine of Rs 10,000 (Rs 25,000 for the second time and Rs 50,000 for subsequent violations, along with cancellation of the unit's license) on producers, wholesale distributors and retailers if they fail to comply with the guidelines.

Products such as those manufactured or imported by the Kerala State Beverages Corporation, Kerala Kerakarshaka Sahakarana Federation Ltd (KERAFED), Kerala Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation (KCMMF or MILMA), Kerla Water Authority and other PSUs are exempted from this ban and will instead be covered within the existent ambit of the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) plan, which needs to be channelised through the existing waste collection facilities set-up by the local bodies as mandated previously by the state government.

Besides, it is worth to mention that Kerala is one of the few states in India that has time and again mulled over the promotion and adoption of eco-friendly concepts like green protocol, Thiruvananthapuram Municipal Corporation (TMC) resource recovery centre (Clean Kerala Company), the Suchitwa Mission (Department of Local Self Government), zero-waste lifestyles and green habitat among others.

Despite such noble initiatives, the usage of plastic items continued unabated in the state which became visibly evident after the devastating flood of August 2019, when massive chunks of plastic debris and bottles washed back on shore from the overflowing rivers and seas.

Benefits from this ban

  • Addresses the enormous problem associated with plastics like littering, excessive consumption at source, etc which will ultimately minimise the mucking up of the landfills, waterways and breeding grounds for mosquitoes and flies.
  • If the single-use plastic (43 per cent of waste) ban gets implemented successfully, Kerala's strategies can be used as a model for other states.
  • Bans on plastic items also cause an uptick in business for reusable items manufacturers and lead to increased employment opportunities in that sector.
  • Allows the fined money to be used strategically in the waste management sector such as building infrastructure, associated policies, creating awareness, conducting training programs for workers, facilitating more R&D (as post-disposal impacts for plastics are extremely high), etc.
  • Provides an opportunity (if the value chain system is inclusive ie including all the stakeholders) to the plastic manufacturers to change their business model to one that fits with a more sustainable ideology.
  • Reduces the dependency and pressure on limited non-renewable resources.
  • Opens avenues for stakeholders to rethink, renovate and allocate budgets for technologies that would be able to capture the economic value of plastics, incentivising their recovery and recycling.

Concerns: Where plastic bans falls short

  • While the move is a decisive step in expressing commitment to environmental causes, complete bans have a poor track record in altering the behaviour of different stakeholders.
  • It often leads plastic manufacturers to scale back their businesses, and results in lobbying of the industries that ultimately ‘harms the economy’.
  • Such bans are hardly considered to ‘nudge’ or stimulate more conscious consumption behavior in people as enforcement of the law prompts behaviour in the opposite direction and instils fear of punishment from the criminal justice system in them.
  • Kerala being a consumer state, most of the products come from other states with the already prescribed standard package which is used in the rest of the country, and hence the immediate ban on plastic items would impact its manufactures.

Like the two sides of a coin, a ban on plastics has its own pros and cons. Yet, the focus should be on striding over the challenges by making the system inclusive, pragmatic and time-bound.

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