Plastics have become inseparable in our lives as most items we use in our daily lives are plastic products. There has for long been demands for use only of thick quality plastics and keeping in view the concerns of adverse effects of plastics, the Modi Government declared a ban on single use plastics like bags, cups, plates, small bottles and certain types of sachets with effect from 2 October though no definition and identification of products has yet been done.
It is being presumed that the Government is bent on proving its concern for the environment through this measure though experts feel that a lot of work is necessary before announcing the ban. But economists fear and quite rightly, that at a time of economic slowdown the challenge to the plastic industry, which is worth over Rs three lakhs would indisputably deepen the gloom in the coming days.
Besides, the decision has been taken without conducting either any scientific or economic assessment of the fallouts of plastic ban. Several Opposition leaders have stated that this is another conspiracy to harm small traders and shopkeepers who heavily rely on plastic for packaging. Moreover, vegetable vendors will suffer but this ban, if implemented, will have virtually no effect on big and even medium-level corporates who will easily shift to other packaging material.
It is well-known that the plastic industry employs lakhs of people and loss of jobs in this sector has to be kept in mind before taking any decision. Food processing, packaged water, pharma products, agriculture and education are among the key sectors that depend on plastic products. The packaged mineral water is a Rs 40,000 crores industry in the country and it would be affected by this decision.
Questions the Indian Plastics Federation: Is the country fit enough to make the transition now? Stating it was with the Government vis-a-vis putting a waste management system in place and recycling should be promoted in a big way. Obviously there is need to improve collection of plastic waste which, in turn, will promote recycling. Under the Plastic Waste Management Rules, States and local bodies have to play a key role in collecting plastic waste and sending them to recycling units.
Think. India generates about 9.4 million tonnes of plastic wastes a year and recycles 60% of it. According to the World Economic Forum study on plastic pollution around the world, oceans will have more plastics than fish by 2050, if plastic pollution continues to rise. India’s contribution to plastic waste that is dumped into the world’s oceans every year is a massive 60%. True, the country’s recycling record is impressive when measured by the global average. However, the challenge before India is the incremental accumulation of single use plastic waste
Apart from the rampant prevalence of single use plastics in the country coming largely from common consumerism, there is another source of plastics making its way to India. According to reliable sources, 25 countries (including Pakistan and Bangladesh) dumped 121,000 metric tonnes of plastic waste in the country after recycling companies imported it.
Meanwhile, the Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) has in a letter stated that traders were the last mile connect with 130 crores people of the country and as such can play a major role in extending the call down the line through more than seven crores shopping outlets. The association observed that 98% of single use plastic was used by multinational companies, corporate manufacturers and big retailers either in their production line or packaging of finished goods.
However, it is good to hear that the Indian Railways has taken the lead in enforcing a ban on single use plastics in trains and its premises from 2 October. Additionally, 1853 plastic water bottle crushing machines are to be installed at 360 major stations in the first phase and the Indian Railways Catering & Tourism Development Corporation (IRCTC) has been asked to implement the return of plastic drinking bottles as part of extended producer responsibility. A general guideline relevant for all is to encourage vendors from refraining from using plastic bags.
In such a scenario, the issue of plastic pollution has become the subject of much discussion and debate across the country. Meanwhile France, China and Ireland as also other countries have taken a lead in banning plastics. As is well known, dumping of plastic waste not recycled requires enormous land, not quite available in urban centres specially in India as plastic takes around 500 to 1000 years to degrade.
In the interim India lacks an organized system for management of plastic waste, leading to widespread littering across towns and cities as is evident. The present ban on the six items of single use plastics will clip around 8 to 10% from the country’s annual consumption of about 14 million tonnes of plastic according to sources.
Pertinently, it is necessary for the Government to plan tougher environmental standards for plastic products and insist on recycling. For this, recycling facilities have to be made available in all towns and even in semi-urban areas with the Government’s zilla parishads at the district level taking the lead. The private sector should also be encouraged to set up recycling machines down to the sub-divisional levels.
Apart from all this, e-commerce companies have to cut back on plastic packaging that makes up nearly 40% of India’s annual consumption. Cheap smart phones and a surge in the number of internet users have boosted orders for such companies but the packahing of their wares has to change.
In sum, the road to sustainability is not straightforward, simple or quick. Every stakeholder in society has a proactive role to play. Most of the time, an individual’s efforts may seem trivial. For instance, a person using approximately 5-6 toothbrushes a year may think that their actions will not have any detrimental environmental consequences, but it does. As regards small companies who use low cost plastic packaging, they would have to change and preferably opt for things that are recyclable.