Updated: June 29, 2022 6:29:18 pm
From Friday, several common use-and-throw plastic products will cease to be in circulation with the government’s rules to prohibit their manufacture and use, issued in August last year, coming into effect. Plastic cutlery items, ice cream and balloon sticks, sweet boxes, invitation cards, cigarette packs, PVC banners measuring under 100 microns and earbuds are some of the items that will no longer be available.
Given that the country generates more than 25,000 tonnes of plastic waste every day — more than 40 per cent of it stays uncollected, often choking sewage networks — the need for measures to restrict the use of this non-degradable synthetic material cannot be overstated. The government has also done the right thing in enforcing the ban in phases. The current strictures apply to relatively low utility items. The real challenge will come when the prohibition is extended to polythene bags under 120 microns in December.
In the past five years, more than 20 states have put in place some form of regulation on plastic use. But by all accounts, their implementation has been patchy at best. The poorly-staffed and feebly-empowered state pollution control boards or cash-strapped municipalities tasked with enforcing the bans have generally not been up to the task. Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav has said that his ministry will set up control rooms to monitor the ban. A better way would be to raise awareness amongst people and take all stakeholders into confidence — the success of Sikkim and Himachal Pradesh, to an extent, testifies to this.
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Some food vendors, takeaway restaurants and grocery outfits have begun using biodegradable cutlery and cloth or paper bags. The government claims that a large number of plastic units are making the switch to using packaging alternatives such as cotton, jute, paper and crop stubble waste. However, the alternatives sector does not produce at a scale that will enable businesses all over the country to make the environment-friendly transition. There are more than 22,000 plastic manufacturing units in the country.
It will be some time before enough numbers are brought under the alternative segment to make a tangible difference to the packaging sector’s environmental footprint. Industry experts say that the prices of a lot of the current plastic substitutes burden the retailer and the consumer — a kg of fabric bags, for example, cost Rs 80 more compared to plastic bags. The government would, therefore, do well to hand-hold businesses, especially small outfits already strained by the economic fallout of the pandemic, during the transition period. In the long run, it must join hands with industry bodies to facilitate R&D in viable plastic substitutes.
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