Will A Nationwide Ban On Single-Use Plastic From July Kill The Polluting Monster?

As the Centre gears up to implement a nationwide ban on single-use plastic from July 1, experts tell us we need to go beyond bans to take on the plastic menace
Will A Nationwide Ban On Single-Use Plastic From July Kill The Polluting Monster?

It is undeniable that plastics are alarmingly ubiquitous, and it is also an unfortunate fact that they present a colossal threat to the ecology. Nations across the world are fighting the menace through policy making.

Even as we write this, a plastic treaty, a legally binding international agreement, is being negotiated in Senegal. Representatives from government, industry, and civil society organizations worldwide are attending the meeting convened by the United Nations Environment Assembly.

While global entities are brainstorming on ways to deal with the worldwide plastic nuisance, countries are also figuring out their own ways to deal with the menace within their borders.

Earlier this year, Union Environment Minister Bhupender Singh Yadav revealed that India generates 3.5 million tonnes of plastic waste annually. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the world produces over 300 million tonnes of plastic every year, of which 14 million tonnes end up in the ocean.

So, come July 1, 2022, India will implement a nationwide ban on all single-use plastic (SUP). Notifying the Plastic Waste Management Amendment Rules, 2021, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has prohibited the manufacture, import, stocking, distribution, sale and use of earbuds with plastic sticks, plastic sticks for balloons, plastic flags, candy sticks, ice-cream sticks, polystyrene (Thermocol) for decoration; plates, cups, glasses, cutlery such as forks, spoons, knives, straw, trays, wrapping or packaging films around sweet boxes, invitation cards, and cigarette packets, plastic or PVC banners less than 100 micron, stirrers. In short, it encompasses SUP items with low utility and high littering potential.

What are SUP, and why are they disastrous?

Comprising plastics that are disposed of after one-time use, SUP usually includes earbuds, styrofoam containers, medical gloves, cling wraps, garbage

bags, bubble wrap, bottle caps, straws and party balloons. However, many SUP can be reused, including PET bottles, plastic cups, plates, etc.

There are different types of plastic: PET, High-density Polyethylene, Low-density Polyethylene, Linear low-density polyethene (LLDPE), PVC, Polypropylene and Styrofoam.

There is also a category of multi-layered plastic made by combining different plastics and materials—for instance, wafers or gutka packets or shampoo sachets. SUP can belong to any of these categories. With time, plastics break down into highly toxic microplastics.

According to Statista, demand for plastic will only grow further, and its production is likely to reach 589 million metric tons by 2050.

Need for a comprehensive action plan

While researchers, experts and environmentalists feel that bans work, they added that it is only to an extent. Pinky Chandran, Founding Member, Solid Waste Management (SWM) Round Table, a cohort of SWM practitioners, says, "Just confiscating the materials from the retail units is not going to help. And in this context, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) prepared a comprehensive action plan to eliminate manufacturing, stocking and selling, which is a step in the right direction. They have issued letters to large manufacturers, e-commerce companies, and large suppliers. However, it remains to be seen if this covers the entire ecosystem since that ambit falls within the purview of individual states. A letter has also been issued to State Pollution Control Boards (PCBs) on what needs to be done."

Lacking clarity on alternatives

The ban has been criticized for not having clear guidelines regarding alternatives. The communique issued by CPCB mentions cotton bags, sustainable clothing, bamboo straws and tableware, wood derived from sustainably managed forests for household items, pottery and ceramics sans toxic glazes and compostable plastics. It also prepared a Standard operating procedure (SOP) for issuing certificates to the manufacturers and sellers of compostable plastics.

"If you look at the PWM Rules 2022, the CPCB is supposed to develop a guideline on sustainable packaging, based on the criteria of package designing promoting reuse; package designing amenable for recycling; recycled plastic content in plastic packaging material and; package designing for environment. But nothing is out yet, in the public domain," adds Chandran.

Beyond bans

According to Dharmesh Shah, Senior technical advisor, Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE), bans are lazy policy making. The Tamil Nadu-based environmentalist opined, "We need a more comprehensive plan for stopping production and import of plastics. Implementation is twofold. You impose a fine; if it is still around, there should be a way to track its source. The government has all the resources to do so. The political will to follow up should be our major effort."

Several experts, including Shah, feel that reducing production should be our aim. "This is what the plastic treaty is negotiating in Senegal right now. They are considering putting caps on production as the idea is to look at the life cycle and reduce production. One can't solve the issue of plastic bags by talking about waste management. We have to stop making certain kinds of plastic. We also need to look at imports. If you look at earbuds, the majority of them come from China. I don't see any import ban. They continue to come in." In March 2022, Shah attended the UNEA-5 in Kenya, which endorsed the resolution to forge a treaty to end plastic pollution.

Citizens' engagement

Nalini Shekar, Co-founder and Executive Director of Hasiru Dala - an organization that seeks to enhance the lives of waste-pickers and bettering waste collection in Bengaluru - offers another perspective. Karnataka announced a ban on using all plastics below the thickness of 40 microns in 2016. Some lessons can be learnt from IT City in bringing down SUP consumption.

"Citizen participation and volunteering have worked very well for Bangalore. Of course, plastic containers have made a comeback post the pandemic. But, the number of plastic carry bags is much lower. I know people who take their steel containers to pack their takeaways or eat at restaurants. Citizens are aware of the plastic menace, but we have to aim for behavioural change communication."

Related Stories

No stories found.
Outlook Business & Money