Balaji Srinivasan, a 42-year-old, first generation entrepreneur, who runs a plastic manufacturing unit in Perambur, has been grappling with a problem since June. “I had bought new machinery only in February this year. Had I known about the ban then, I wouldn’t have invested further. I have a loan of over Rs 30 lakh that I need to repay over four years,” he said.
Balaji had started the business more than two decades ago, soon after graduating from college. He had invested Rs 9 lakh back then. With close to 30 workers in his small scale unit, which manufacturers polythene bags above 50 microns, his clients extend from the wholesalers in Broadway to industries in Ambattur. “I don’t have a backup plan yet. I feel like I have been left in the dark without any options,” he said.
Though the ban is supposed to be implemented from January 2019, Balaji said he had begun to feel its impact already. “I have tonnes of plastic waste lying in my factory.
Earlier, buyers used to purchase the waste from my unit and recycle them, but not anymore,” he added.
Like Balaji, there are thousands in the state who have been trying to manoeuvre their way around the ban that may eventually spell an end to their businesses. The state has over 5,000 manufacturers of plastic that provide employment to more than a lakh people indirectly. Balaji said, “I have dealers, sub-dealers and the end users who are dependent on my factory. What will they do if I am forced to stop manufacturing plastic?” S Rakkappan, secretary of The Tamil Nadu Plastics Manufactures’ Association said that more than Rs 3,000 crore have been invested in the business. He said that since plastic constitutes only 7 per cent of the total solid waste, a complete ban on one time use plastics — including covers, sheets, cups, plates, straws, packets and flags — was a preposterous idea.
“Single use plastic constitutes only 1.5 per cent of the 7 per cent plastic waste, the remaining are the packaging materials used by fast-moving consumer goods and other products,” said Rakkappan, adding that the Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016, has only increased the minimum thickness of plastic carry bags from 40 to 50 microns.
He said, “The rules stipulate minimum thickness of 50 microns for plastic sheets to facilitate collection and recycle of plastic waste.” Rakkappan added that the proposed plastic ban goes against the Centre’s directions.
He said, “The Tamil Nadu government is set to spare exporters and big players in the business from the ban. The central government has said that no industry or person shall manufacture, store, supply, transport, sell or distribute throwaway plastic. Then why is the rule in Tamil Nadu different for exporters and manufacturers?” In the wholesale market on Anderson Street, a ripple of the impending ban can already be felt.
A Adam Ansari of New Pilot Plastics, a third generation wholesale entrepreneur, said, “We have formed an association and represented our concerns in front of the authorities, but we have not received any response yet. They should tackle the waste management issue rather than attacking small businesses like ours.” The resistance, however, was not unexpected, said Santhosh Babu, the chairman and managing director of Tamil Nadu Handicrafts Development Corporation Ltd, who is on the panel coordinating the ban.
He added that the impetus would be towards promoting self-help groups manufacturing alternatives. He said, “The aim is to overcome the resistance and find alternatives for plastic. Self-help groups focusing on the alternatives like cloth bags can be backed by the government.”
The city civic body also has sped up its drive against plastics by reaching out to the community, said a source from the Greater Chennai Corporation. “The citizens must change their lifestyle too. The government alone cannot bring about a change,” said a senior source from the Corporation.
Activists and citizen groups supporting the ban noticed that there are a few loopholes in the proposed ban. Kripa Ramachandran, a researcher with CAG, said that the ban should also include polypropylene bags that are more harmful to the environment than plastic.
“They are not addressing pet bottles and the water packets that are ubiquitous in TASMAC outlets,” Kripa said. Moreover, the bags being used in commercial enterprises are not going to be addressed through the ban, she added. “Are they going to be phased out? How are these plastic products going to be tackled?” Kripa asked.
With the existing ban on plastics below 50 microns thick being flouted openly, all possible ways to flout the upcoming ban should be plugged, said Ganga Sridhar, part of core committee of Sustainable Waste Management People’s Forum. “People can become the watchdogs and inform the government on suppliers and sellers of these plastics, after the ban is enforced,” she said.
Kripa said that the ban should be used as an opportunity to explore if an alternative for plastics was needed in some of the cases. “Shops can incentivise customers to bring their own covers and self-help groups can also look at this was an opportunity to boost the use of bags and other products made with cloth, jute or other eco-friendly product, instead of plastic,” she said.
Plastic industry in TN is worth 3,000 crore
Number of units in Chennai 300
Why ban plastic?
Plastic is non biodegradable and the ban aims to make Tamil Nadu plastic free
What is banned
- Plastic bags
- Plastic cups
- Plastic plates
- Plastic straws
- Water packets
- Plastic flags
What is not banned
- Plastic bags produced solely for export purposes
- Plastic bags and sheets used exclusively for forestry and horticulture nurseries
- Plastic bags used for packing milk products, medicine and medical equipment