Editorial: Ban no deterrent to bane of plastic

Over three years ago, Tamil Nadu banned SUP from January 1, 2019. After the ban was implemented, officials of the Chennai Corporation and other civic bodies raided shops, super markets, restaurants, fast food joints and even fined several of these outlets besides seizing tonnes of banned plastic items.
Representative image
Representative image

CHENNAI: Over two weeks have passed since India announced a ban on 19 single-use plastic (SUP) items with effect from July 1. Yet nothing appears to have changed in our lives, at least as of now. The ban, as per the Centre, meant that products such as earbuds and balloons with plastic sticks, plastic flags, candy sticks, ice-cream sticks, polystyrene (thermocol) for decoration, plastic plates, cups, cutlery, packaging films and plastic items less than 100 micron, can no longer be used anywhere in India. The Plastic Waste Management Amendment Rules, 2021, already prohibit manufacture, import, stocking, distribution, sale and use of plastic carry bags with a thickness of less than seventy-five microns with effect from Sept 30, 2021.

For effective enforcement of the ban on the identified items from July 1, national and state level control rooms were also set up. Special enforcement teams were to be formed for checking illegal manufacture, trading and use of banned single-use plastic items. States and UTs have been asked to set up border checkpoints to stop inter-state movement of SUP. But have these products really disappeared?

Over three years ago, Tamil Nadu banned SUP from January 1, 2019. After the ban was implemented, officials of the Chennai Corporation and other civic bodies raided shops, super markets, restaurants, fast food joints and even fined several of these outlets besides seizing tonnes of banned plastic items. As a result, supermarkets stopped putting groceries in bags, and the public was forced to carry their cloth bags or purchase biodegradable ones for a small charge. Plastic cutlery disappeared from fast food chains and were replaced by wooden spoons. Although the ban had to be enforced with an iron hand, it seemed effective. But three years on, those living in the suburbs of Chennai and rural TN, can vouch that every banned plastic item is available in smaller retail outlets and larger shops too.

The ban on plastics in TN has hardly had any effect in putting an end to the multi-crore plastics manufacturing industry which continues to churn out banned items for public consumption. Over a dozen other States have announced the ban pompously in the past only to end up with a similar experience a few years later. But the recent nationwide ban is easier to implement as plastics cannot sneak into a state from its porous borders anymore unless one considers States sharing borders with other countries. Yet, there seems to be no urgency from the Centre and States in enforcing the ban on priority. It is time we reminded ourselves that the plastic carry bag that we dump along with other garbage into waste bins take at least a thousand years to decompose until which time it stays inside the intestines of cows and other animals or trapped between rocks in river beds and even buried deep under the ocean as a toxic waste.

Experts in the policy space believe there is a requirement to ascertain the preparedness involving various stakeholders regarding the plastic ban. Vendors and manufacturers of SUP need to be provided with an alternative business roadmap to make their transition seamless. The principle of Extended Producer Responsibility, which requires makers of such products to collect and recycle their products so that they do not end up harming the environment, must also be emphasised. Lack of strict enforcement of waste segregation contributes to indiscriminate littering, aided by the absence of an infrastructure that can redirect plastic waste back to the manufacturers. The plastic ban needs to be carried out in a planned, sustainable and localised manner.

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