India's plastics ban faces implementation hurdles

19 July 2018 06:19 Source:ICIS News

MUMBAI (ICIS)--A complete ban on single-use plastics is now in force in 19 states across India, but faces faulty and weak implementation, partly due to a lack of cheap alternatives available to consumers.

Uttar Pradesh was the latest to implement the ban on 15 July, in line with India’s overall strategy as announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in June that single-use plastics must be completely banned in the country by 2022.

Out of 29 states and 7 union territories, 25 now have either a partial or complete ban on plastics, especially polyethylene (PE) bags with thickness of less than 50 microns.

India, which is the second-biggest emerging market economy in Asia, has a per capita polymers consumption 11 kilograms (kg) in 2017, lower than China’s 38kg and Europe’s 65kg, according to the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI).

More than consumption, India’s problem lies with disposal of plastic wastes.

"Plastic is not the problem, littering is the issue we need to address,” All India Plastic Manufacturers Association (AIPMA) president Hiten Bheda said.

“In evolved economies, things are phased out over a period of years and not suddenly. We must check for alternatives before implementing the ban or we may end up introducing something even more harmful," he said.

Implementation of a plastics ban has not been successful over the years. Sikkim was the first state in India to ban plastic bags as early as 1998, with other states following suit in the years that followed, while the pan-India ban was ordered in 2016.

“Most Indian states use a top down approach with these bans. Retailers and end-users have not been educated or provided with alternatives,” a Mumbai-based plastic manufacturer said.

The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), a statutory body under India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests, stated in a 2016 report that plastic bags were still being sold and used in states where the ban is in place.

India generates over 15,000 tonnes of plastic waste per day, around 9,000 tonnes or 60% of which are collected and recycled, while the remaining 6,000 tonnes are uncollected and are dumped in landfills or litter streets and drains, based on the report.

“Maharashtra, India’s most populous state and its biggest generator of plastic waste is now a test case,” said Pramod Kulkarni from Mumbai-based non-governmental organization Green Yatra said.

Maharashtra announced a total ban on plastics from 23 June 2018, but a strong opposition by plastic manufacturers and allied industries pushed back the implementation by three months.

The ban in the state covers all single-use PE bags, disposable plastic cutlery, disposable thermocol items, plastic wrap used for packaging and storage, non-woven polypropylene bags, plastic pouches for storing liquid, plastic packaging for food items, plastic and thermocol decorations.

Violators face fines of Indian rupee (Rs) 5,000-25,000 ($73-365/tonne) and imprisonment of three months.

Plastic manufacturers and other industry associations, however, complain that the government has not provided affordable solutions or alternatives to single-use plastics.

"We need to find a collective solution which will not hurt the plastic industry," AIPMA chief Bheda said.

Lack of affordable alternatives is a big problem, as cotton or jute bags are often expensive and production of cheaper corn-starch bags is still limited, industry sources said.

Consumer firms in Maharashtra have so far responded positively to the environment-friendly policy, with retailer Walmart pledging to stop using single-use shrink wrap, while beverage producer PepsiCo announced plans to collect and recycle polyethylene terephthalate (PET) waste generated in the state.

Focus article by Priya Jestin

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Picture: Plastic bags. (Source: PhotoAlto/REX/Shutterstock)

By Priya Jestin