As the country prepares to take its first major step to phase out single-use plastic items starting Friday, environmentalists highlight that it is a ‘make-or-break’ moment for India’s green future. The ban will set in motion a long-awaited plan to replace as many as 19 items of ‘low utility’ which are difficult to collect and more challenging to recycle with sustainable alternatives.
“Even as we believe that this ban is too limited, we have to admit that it is a critical step towards controlling the menace,” said Sunita Narain, director general of Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE). “We do not need to be warned about the problem. We live it every day. Our cities are littered with non-biodegradable plastic material, and it is greatly adding to environmental stress and degradation.”
The Plastic Waste Management (Amendment) Rules, 2021, notified by the government in August last year ban manufacture, import, stocking, distribution, sale and use of identified at least 19 single-use plastic items ranging from straws, cutlery to plastic sticks on candies, balloons and ear buds. The list also includes PVC banner with thickness of less than 100 microns often used by businesses for outdoor/indoor signage and advertising, and polystyrene (thermocol) for the purpose of decoration.
Though a complete ban on polyethylene bags (poly bags) has already been ruled out — the government has prohibited the use of plastic bags thinner than 75 microns. Starting December 31, the ban will extend to plastic bags with thickness of less than 120 microns. The idea behind is to ensure that thicker bags are easier to collect, and recycle, while the thinner bags most likely tear off and eventually disintegrate into microplastics — a serious health hazard.
The ban also covers packaging/wrapping plastic film over cigarette packets, sweet boxes, and invitation cards, but excludes ‘multi-layered packaging (MLP)’ used in almost all fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG), from chips to shampoos to gutka pouches — which is being cited as one of the lacunae. More so, because a lot of this packaging plastic escapes the recycling process, and has to be sent to cement plants for incineration, say experts.
According to the government, plastic packaging will be part of the extended producer responsibility (EPR), the guidelines for which were notified in February early this year. Under EPR, the manufacturers/producers will be mandated to ensure environmentally sound management of the product until the end of its life, and eventually bolster the circular economy of plastic packaging waste.
There are concerns around the success of this model, and environmentalists argue that there is no information on the quantity of this plastic material which is recycled/reprocessed or the waste the company generates. “Under EPR, companies are required to recycle or reprocess the material they collect only by 2024. Not only is it based on self-declaration, but there is nothing available in the public domain to assess its accuracy,” said Narain.
Reflecting on the ban, the noted environmentalist, however, also added that “it is time that people eventually become responsible for their own waste and not use the banned items today, and ask for more to be banned tomorrow—because we must and can live without them.”
All Set For The Ban
On Wednesday, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) held a meeting with Municipal Commissioners of 42 million plus cities (MPCs)/urban agglomerations (UAs), urging them to lead their teams to enforce the ban within their jurisdiction. “The success of the ban will only be possible through effective engagement and concerted actions by all stakeholders and enthusiastic public participation,” the ministry reiterated.
Meanwhile, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), which recently launched a Grievance Redressal App to allow people to report violations, has said it is all set to achieve the ambitious goal. The app has geotagging features with facility to track complaints.
Directions have already been issued to e-commerce companies leading single use plastic sellers/users and plastic raw material manufacturers to adhere to the ban. The CPCB has also issued one-time certificates to around 200 manufacturers of compostable plastic, which do not require renewal to promote the use of alternatives. Local authorities have been directed to issue fresh commercial licenses with the condition that SUP items shall not be sold on their premises and the existing commercial licenses shall be cancelled, if entities are found to be selling banned SUP items.
The government also plans to set up national and state level control rooms and form special enforcement teams for checking illegal manufacture, import, stocking, distribution, sale and use of banned single use plastic items. States and Union Territories have been asked to set up border check points to stop inter-state movement of any banned single use plastic items.