With the National Green Tribunal (NGT) completely banning plastic “less than 50 microns”, the Delhi government and the three municipal corporations have collected nearly 9,000 kg of plastic. But there’s one problem: No one knows where to dispose of it. Earlier this month, the NGT had reinforced its ban and slapped a fine of Rs 5,000 on anyone found in possession of non-biodegradable plastic bags.
Since then, the government and the MCDs have been on a war footing to implement the ban. While the government said a total of 7,739 kg of plastic bags had been seized and Rs 2.9 lakh collected as environmental compensation, the civic bodies said they had seized 1,200 kg of bags and collected over a lakh as compensation. Environment Minister Imran Hussain also directed officials to “strictly implement the NGT’s directions” and “send regular action-taken reports”.
However, the larger problem of disposing the bags remains. If dumped in landfills, they can continue polluting the environment for a millennium, officials said. While the Bureau of Indian Standards’ ‘Guidelines for Recycling of Plastics’ stipulates a three-pronged process of recycling plastic (selection, segregation and processing), this doesn’t apply to plastic material thinner than 50 microns, since it simply can’t be recycled.
The government also admitted that disposing the plastic amassed — due to the sheer volume — was a problem. A spokesperson said, “The government has collected the plastic waste and the MCDs are trying to figure out a solution.” A solution, though, is hardly on the horizon. A senior SDMC official said, “There is simply too much plastic waste. We are trying to figure out different options, including sending them to waste-to-energy plants. We are also speaking to different recycling units. But in all likelihood, they will end up at a landfill.”
Cautioning against this, Swati Singh Sambhyal, programme officer at Centre for Science and Environment, said, “Dumping plastic at a landfill will defeat the purpose of the ban. Burning it is also not an option. While they (authorities) can speak to different waste-to-energy plants, it will also not be without potential pollution. A solution for now would be to stock it, but the larger focus needs to be on stopping manufacture of such plastic.”
As per DPCC sources, a number of unregistered units concentrated around the Bawana industrial area continue to thrive. “The economics is simple. These bags are cheaper than anything else in the market. So traders buy it and consumers use it,” an official said. Sambhyal added, “There needs to be monitoring, along with a sustained campaign to subsidise alternate bags, such as jute or cloth, for a long-term solution.”
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