The use of single-use plastic items may not have stopped completely in Pune city, but a survey by three city-based NGOs found that almost 61 per cent shops in the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) limits have stopped using plastic carry bags below 50 microns.
On March 23 last year, the Maharashtra government had announced a complete ban on single-use plastic and thermocol items in the state and imposed a fine of Rs 5,000 on those found manufacturing, selling, distributing and using these banned items within the state limits. But the government started enforcing the ban stringently only in June last year.
For the survey, NGO EcoExist joined hands with Oikos and Ecological Society to carry out a survey to understand the impact of this ban on shopkeepers in Pune. The survey covered 42 locations in PMC limits in December and January and involved interactions with a total of 1,142 shops that sold garments, meat, grocery, vegetables and fruits, dairy products, electronics, flowers, household items, food items and others.
While the survey reveals that most shops in PMC limits have stopped using plastic carry bags, it also found that as many as 61 per cent customers still demanded plastic bags to carry the items, despite the ban being in place for almost a year.
The survey team, which included students from Fergusson College, Wadia College, Bharati Vidyapeeth and Kaveri College, also found that small shops were more compliant to the ban. “The small sellers can’t afford to pay the hefty fine. Comparatively, we found that large retailers and shops continue to give away the banned plastic carry bags,” said Manisha Gutman of EcoExist.
While officials from the Solid Waste Management Department of PMC have been carrying out surprise inspections at stores, the survey found that 56 per cent shops have not faced such an inspection in the last one year. The team also found that officials were unable to recover fines from those vendors who could not afford to pay the Rs 5,000 fine.
“The ban is a good move, but there is no provision in cases where a violator is unable to pay the fine,” said Gutman.
While most shops did provide other kinds of bags, it continued to be a major challenge for meat sellers, grocers, cafe and food stalls. “Meat and fish vendors said they have been hit badly by the ban, as there is no effective alternative for packing meat items, other than plastic bags,” said a member of the survey team.
Even the currently-used ‘cloth-like’ bags are not completely plastic-free, said Gutman, and lack of awareness among shopkeepers and consumers on the issue remained high. She said, “These cloth-like bags contain 98 per cent polyprelene, a type of plastic, but the users are unaware of it. Since these bags are machine-manufactured and available in large quantities, it is widely circulated in the markets. The use of these non-woven bags also have to be stopped.”
The survey team cited the rampant sale of black garbage bags that hampered efforts by the civic body and Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) on plugging the supply of these banned items.
The survey also found that the banned plastic bags continue to be used at popular shopping spots like Market Yard and Shivaji Market. The team suggested that it was now up to the authorities to heighten their vigil and crack down on shopkeepers who continue using plastic bags.