Plas­tic puz­zle

De­spite three re­vi­sions in the past four months, the con­fu­sion around Ma­ha­rash­tra's am­bi­tious plas­tic ban con­tin­ues


Roll-out of Ma­ha­rash­tra's plas­tic ban has been marred by con­fu­sion

WHAT'S WORSE than the plas­tic waste that is chok­ing Mumbai and other cities in Ma­ha­rash­tra? It’s the way the state gov­ern­ment is han­dling its re­cent ban on plas­tic use. On March 23, Ma­ha­rash­tra be­came the first in the coun­try to im­pose a blan­ket ban not only on plas­tic carry bags, but also ther­mo­col and multi-layer pack­ag­ing (see ‘Nag­ging prob­lem’). But the rollout of the ban has been marred by con­fu­sions, thanks to mul­ti­ple gov­ern­ment no­ti­fi­ca­tions and a con­tra­dic­tory state­ment by the state en­vi­ron­ment min­is­ter.

The March 23 no­ti­fi­ca­tion gave con­sumers and traders a month’s time to hand over their plas­tic stock to re­cy­clers. On March 28, as­so­ci­a­tions of traders and plas­tic man­u­fac­tur­ers met the gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials to dis­cuss paucity of time and lack of clar­ity in the no­ti­fi­ca­tion. “The of­fi­cials promised to ex­tend the time for dis­pos­ing of plas­tic to three months and help the traders con­nect with re­cy­clers in the state,” says Viren Shah, pres­i­dent, Fed­er­a­tion of Re­tail Traders Wel­fare As­so­ci­a­tions. On April 11, the gov­ern­ment is­sued a sec­ond no­ti­fi­ca­tion, ex­tend­ing the time to dis­pose of plas­tics till June 23, ex­empt­ing pet bot­tles and ask­ing traders to buy back the used ones. It also directed man­u­fac­tur­ers to print the buy­back mech­a­nism on the bot­tle la­bel. The no­ti­fi­ca­tion is, how­ever, silent on how traders could reach the re­cy­clers.

The ban was im­ple­mented on June 23 even as traders main­tained that they are con­fused about what to do with multi-layer pack­ag­ing and pa­per-based car­ton pack­ag­ing with a layer of plas­tic

used by big man­u­fac­tur­ers. Ac­cord­ing to Anil Dig­gikar, en­vi­ron­ment sec­re­tary, Ma­ha­rash­tra, the ban on multi-layer pack­ag­ing and plas­tic used by on­line shopping com­pa­nies was not in­cluded in pre­vi­ous no­ti­fi­ca­tions due to the gov­ern­ment’s neg­li­gence. “It was a mis­take. The lat­est no­ti­fi­ca­tion clears all the doubts,” says Dig­gikar. How­ever, not all am­bi­gu­i­ties have been ad­dressed, es­pe­cially on us­ing ther­mo­col for stor­ing fish. On June 25, Ma­ha­rash­tra En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter Ram­das Kadam told me­dia that while the ban on plas­tic carry bags and dishes, spoons and food plates made from ther­mo­col con­tin­ues, “ther­mo­col ma­te­rial used for dec­o­ra­tion is not banned. It clearly means the fish ven­dors, who use ther­mo­col for stor­age, are ex­empted”. While the first no­ti­fi­ca­tion on March 23 banned ther­mo­col for dec­o­ra­tion, the lat­est no­ti­fi­ca­tion on July 4 did not clear the air ei­ther. It just ex­empted multi-layer pack­ag­ing and plas­tic used by gro­ceries to sell loose food items.

Il­le­gal raids

Amid con­fu­sion, Ma­ha­rash­tra Pol­lu­tion Con­trol Board and mu­nic­i­pal cor­po­ra­tions have car­ried out sev­eral raids—many of which were il­le­gal— on small traders. Kr­ish­na­murthy Shetty, who runs a hot chips shop in Am­ber­nath, a sub­urb of Mumbai, was fined `5,000 on May 22, a month be­fore the ban was to be rolled out. “The of­fi­cials said plas­tic was banned in the state. They gave me a gen­eral re­ceipt, which means the raid was il­le­gal,” says Shetty show­ing the re­ceipt. The no­ti­fi­ca­tion al­lows shop­keep­ers like Shetty to use plas­tic to pack­age food items.

Jeevan Unecha, owner of Ganesh su­per­mar­ket in Pune’s Sin­hagad road, shares a sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ence. “On May 26, Pune Mu­nic­i­pal Cor­po­ra­tion raided my shop. When they did not find any­thing ob­jec­tion­able, they tore the plas­tic pack­ag­ing of brooms and in­cense sticks and im­posed a `2,000 fine,” says Unecha. The min­i­mum fine un­der the no­ti­fi­ca­tion is `5,000. “The raids con­ducted in May were aber­ra­tions. We are deal­ing with them,” says Dig­gikar.

No­ti­fied in a rush

Apart from the con­fu­sion over rules and un­war­ranted puni­tive ac­tions, lack of af­ford­able al­ter­na­tives is also hurt­ing the prospects of suc­cess­ful im­ple­men­ta­tion of the ban. The gov­ern­ment has been urg­ing con­sumers to switch to cloth bags and biodegrad­able plas­tic, but these al­ter­na­tives have a high up­front cost. Cloth bags, for ex­am­ple, are more eco-friendly and re­us­able than sin­gle-use plas­tic bags of be­low 50 mi­cron. But when it comes to up­front cost, `25-75 for a cloth bag does not look en­cour­ag­ing against 10-25 paise per piece for the plas­tic bag. “It would take at least a cou­ple of months to find a re­place­ment for plas­tic carry bags, but al­ter­na­tives to plas­tic for other us­ages may need a year,” says Priti Ma­hesh of Tox­ics Link, a Delhi-based non-profit work­ing on plas­tic pol­lu­tion.

Mean­while, the plas­tics in­dus­try in Ma­ha­rash­tra will lose `1,000 crore due to the ban, says Nimit Pun­miya, gen­eral sec­re­tary of the Plas­tic Bag Man­u­fac­tur­ers As­so­ci­a­tion of In­dia. “Ma­ha­rash­tra has more than 400 plas­tic bag man­u­fac­tur­ing units that em­ploy about 20,000 peo­ple. The gov­ern­ment should have given us enough time to shift to other sec­tors be­cause most of the play­ers are smallscale,” adds Pun­miya.

Ravi Jash­nani, pres­i­dent, Ma­ha­rash­tra Plas­tic Man­u­fac­tur­ers As­so­ci­a­tion, be­lieves the ban will fail as the gov­ern­ment has not sen­si­tised traders and cus­tomers. “In the ab­sence of aware­ness cam­paigns on plas­tic man­age­ment, the de­mand for sin­gle-use plas­tic will in­crease and it will be met by the un­or­gan­ised sec­tor. This hap­pened in Delhi, where plas­tic carry bags are still eas­ily avail­able years af­ter the ban,” says Jash­nani. To make Ma­ha­rash­tra— which ac­counts for 20 per cent of the plas­tic con­sump­tion in In­dia— plas­tic-free, sub­si­dis­ing al­ter­na­tives could be the way to go. But as of now, it does not seem to be on cards. (With in­puts from Ra­jit Sen­gupta and Sub­ho­jit Goswami)

RAJIL MENON Kr­ish­na­murthy Shetty, who runs a hot chips shop in Am­ber­nath, a sub­urb of Mumbai, was fined `5,000 on May 22, a month be­fore the plas­tic ban was to be rolled out

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