THE DRIVE against plastic in City Beautiful following a National Green Tribunal order to ban it two years ago seems to have lost steam. The city continues to see rampant use of plastic, especially in markets. Plastic remains a significant component of the 400 tonnes of garbage generated by Chandigarh daily.
Ten tonnes of plastic is received every day at the Jaypee Group-run garbage processing plant at Dadumajra, said Col K J S Sandhu (Retd), who is in charge of the plant. Plastic bags, plastic bottles and milk packets are the main constituents of this plastic waste. “It gets really difficult to segregate plastic from the wet waste. That is why we have been asking the MC to ensure that there is proper segregation because it gets difficult when we receive plastic. Plastic would create hurdles in the preparation of compost too,” Sandhu told Chandigarh Newsline. The Jaypee company that is running the garbage processing plant is coming up with a waste-to-compost plant on the Dadumajra premises.
From street vendors to shopkeepers, everyone continues to use plastic. At Sector 26 Grain Market, only few fruit vendors use newspaper-made bags but most of the vendors continue to use the plastic carry bag. For the vendors, alternatives come at a high cost. “The alternatives, like cloth or jute bags, are really expensive. We can’t afford to give a carry bag of Rs 4 to Rs 6 each to every buyer. We are small vendors and that is why we use these plastic carry bags. Somebody comes to the grain market and supplies such bags in bulk to all of our vendors here,” said Raju, a vegetable vendor.
Desraj, president of Small Vegetable Sellers Association, said, “Agar customer hi apna bag laaye, to hum kyun plastic use karen. Moreover, 100 per cent compostable bags are really expensive and we can’t afford them. At one kg rate, we get only 150 pieces of that 100 per cent compostable bags while for plastic, we get 500 pieces at one kg rate. Also, that bag cannot withstand weight which plastic can.”
Sombir, a vendor, maintains that there is no such alternative which is as cheaper as plastic. “Hume bhi dar dar ke ye bag use karna padta hai kyunki ise istemal karna mana hai,” Sombir said, handing out brinjals and spinach in a plastic bag to a customer. In posh city markets, there is an effort to use non-woven bags that look and feel like something between paper and cloth. In reality, those bags are made of poly-propylene — 100 per cent non bio-degradable plastic.
But most shopkeepers are blissfully ignorant of this, or they do not want to know. Arvinder Singh Gujral, who owns a showroom in Sector 17, said, “We never use plastic bags. We give the non-woven bags to our customers and each bag costs Rs 6. When customers come to the billing counter, they are charged if they want the carry bag.”
Kamaljit Singh Panchhi, another trader, said, “All big shop owners in main markets like sectors 17, 8 and 9 had stopped using plastic bags much before the ban was enforced.” “Although the alternatives to plastic bags are expensive, we pass on the additional cost to the customer,” Vinod Verma, a shopkeeper based in Sector 35, said. Both were surprised to learn that the bags they were assuming as eco-friendly was in fact also plastic. “Really? I thought it was cloth,” Panchhi exclaimed. Others said any other alternatives would not be economically viable substitute.
Another trader said he was getting these bags in bulk from Delhi as they were not being manufactured in Chandigarh. Very few, mainly upmarket boutique shops, offer non-plastic bags such as paper or jute. In such shops, customers are charged Rs 7 for a bag. Last year, the Chandigarh Pollution Control Board had come up with a substitute, a carry bag which was claimed to be 100 per cent compostable and safe for the environment. These bags are made of corn starch, which is 100 per cent compostable. It was said that when these bags come in contact with soil, in the presence of sunlight and humidity, they will break down into manure. The material improves the carbon content of soil, making it better for farming. A company, Greendiamz Biotech Limited based at Ahemdabad, which was manufacturing such bags was given the permit by the board to supply such bags in Chandigarh.
However, only 100 traders in the last one year purchased this bag. Ashutosh Nahan, a local distributor from the company, told Chandigarh Newsline, “I don’t know why the ban is not being imposed in Chandigarh in letter and spirit. People are not coming forward to purchase such bags. Despite spreading so much awareness, the traders say that they wish to use non-woven bags but they don’t know it is complete plastic.” The cost factor seems to be the main reason why the compostable bag has not taken off. According to the company official, these bags cost Rs 390 per kg whereas non-woven bags cost Rs 160 per kg.
“We went to authorities in Panchkula as well and they are least interested. We never expected that NGT ban would not be implemented in such educated cities,” Nahan said. The Chandigarh Pollution Control Board officials said that people must use such bags for a safe environment. “We know that plastic is being used in a rampant manner. But the enforcement authorities must do their job. We can only create awareness,” said a senior official of the board.
Rhythm Aggarwal, Assistant Environmental Engineer with the Chandigarh Pollution Control Committee (CPCC), said that because there is just one distributor — Ahmedabad-based Greendiamz Biotech Limited which is supplying the 100 per cent compostable bags in this region — there is his monopoly and the rates are high.
“If there are many distributors, rates of these bags would come down. But because there is monopoly, these bags are expensive and the vendors at grain markets too don’t use these,” Aggarwal said. Aggarwal added that these small vendors had easy availability of plastic bags from Panchkula and Mohali, and the supply has to be stopped first in order to implement the ban in letter and spirit.