The Maharashtra government’s decision to ban the use of plastic has been welcomed by environmentalists, but frowned upon by some stakeholders who feel that lakhs of people will be rendered jobless in the Rs 50,000 crore industry. The government had earlier rejected the pleas of some players from the plastic industry to reconsider the decision on ban, saying “today’s pain is tomorrow’s gain”.
On March 23, the Maharashtra Plastic and Thermocol Products notification was issued to ban the manufacture, use, storage, distribution, sale, import and transportation of all kinds of plastic items. The ban covers a wide range of items like plastic bags, thermocol, disposable cups and plates, cutlery, non-woven polypropylene bags, plastic pouches and packaging.
Commercial bodies, like the All India Plastic Manufacturers Association, the Maharashtra Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MCCI) and the Clothing Manufacturers Association of India, say the ban would have an adverse impact on the Rs 50,000-crore industry, besides affecting the ancillary units.
MCCI’s vice president Lalit Gandhi said the ban on plastic bags has derailed the production, packaging and supply schedules of the grains, bakery and clothing industries. “Many units are on the verge of closure in the absence of the basic packaging material – the plastic bags – and we fear that nearly three lakh people employed there may become jobless,” he said.
However, noted environmentalist Almitra Patel said the industry need not resist the government’s decision, but rather try to accommodate, change itself and manufacture alternate items which are not harmful for the ecosystem. “The plastic menace is there particularly due to the non-recyclable food or snack packaging items,” said Patel, who is a member of the Supreme Court-appointed committee for solid waste management.
S K Ray, the honorary secretary of the Indian Centre for Plastic in the Environment (ICPE), set up on the recommendation of a task force constituted by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, said the ban on plastics is not a solution to the growing challenges of solid waste management. This is possibly a “retrograde step,” he said.
To a query, Ray, in an e-mail response, said the ban would hurt consumers the most, mainly the low income families. It would be hard to buy ordinary grocery products loose from retail outlets, he said. “Also, it would be difficult to deliver liquid cooked food items like curries, chutneys and sauces, to customers ordering meals online or on phone,” he said.
He claimed that a report on ‘Life Cycle Assessment of Grocery Carrier Bags’ by Ministry of Environment and Food of Denmark in February 2018, says plastic bags are environmentally more friendly as compared to the conventional alternatives. There are numerous such studies, including one conducted by the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)-Delhi, arriving at similar conclusions, he further said.
Ray also suggested that the ‘source segregation’ (at the origin) of all solid waste, including plastics would dramatically improve the recycling efficiency of all throw away items. “There should be a mass awareness campaign to promote the ‘bin’ culture and zero tolerance towards littering. This can become a cornerstone of the government’s ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’ (Clean India Mission),” he said.
However, a city-based NGO, Vanshakti, which works for safeguarding the environment, welcomed the government’s decision saying such a ban should have rather been brought 10 years ago. “The menace and damage caused by excessive careless and needless use of plastic has caused a massive damage to the ecosystem,” the NGO’s convener, Stalin D, said. “The burning and degradation of plastic releases carcinogenic toxins. The micro-plastics have entered our food chain. Wherever plastic is needed for packaging like the milk pouches, there cellulose-based compostable plastic can be used,” he suggested.
The microplastics are extremely small pieces of plastic debris in the environment, resulting from the disposal and breakdown of consumer products and industrial waste. The NGO official demanded that the ‘one time’ use plastics (mostly of use and throw nature) be banned, and that not just the manufacturers or sellers, but even the users be penalised.