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From spoons to flags, how govt’s plastic ban aims to phase out ‘low-utility’ single-use items

Nationwide ban, which came into effect on 1 July, prohibits manufacture, circulation & sale of 21 types of single-use plastic items. Experts say vendors must be informed about alternatives.

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New Delhi: Emphasising the importance of public participation in ensuring the success of its ambitious plan, the government on 1 July began the process of phasing out single-use plastics (SUP), prohibiting the manufacture, circulation and sale of 21 types of plastic items — a ban that has taken almost two years to come into effect. 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi first announced that single-use plastics would be banned on 15 August 2019. Subsequently, a notification for the ban was issued in August 2021, mandating the formation of task forces in states and at the Centre to oversee its pan-India implementation.

The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has now said that details of district-level compliance to field directions will be released fortnightly, starting 14 July.

“It’s a good initiative, but what needs to be looked at more closely is preparedness from all stakeholders to roll out the ban. Information about alternatives for vendors who are selling single use plastics is not freely available, and it should be. Enforcement needs to be uniform and localised for the ban to work,” said Swati Singh Sambyal, an independent waste and circular economy expert. 

Hiten Bheda, head of the environment committee of the All India Plastic Manufacturers Association (AIPMA), said the government has been “receptive” to the concerns of plastic manufacturers who, he says, “agree” with the Swachh Bharat mission.

“But phasing out plastics has to be done scientifically. We will not compromise on food and health safety, and the industry has to be given the space and time to adapt,” Bheda said.

Also Read: First step to tackle plastic pollution is to measure it. Asia & Africa are leading the charge

What is the plastic ban

At the moment, the Government of India has not banned all single use-plastics, but only 21 “low-utility and high littering potential” items. 

These are: earbuds with plastic sticks, plastic sticks for balloons, plastic flags, candy and ice-cream sticks made of plastic, thermocol for decoration (expanded polystyrene), plates, cups, glasses, and cutlery made of plastic, plastic straws, plastic trays and stirrers, wrapping or packaging films around sweet boxes, wrapping or packaging films around invitation cards, and wrapping or packaging films around cigarette packets. 

While the ban does not cover all plastic bags, it does require manufacturers to produce plastic bags thicker than 75 microns — up from the previous lower limit of 50 microns. According to the notification, this standard will be increased to 120 microns in December this year. 

The notification further requires plastic or PVC banners/ hoardings to be more than 100 microns in thickness, and non-woven plastic (polypropylene) to be more than 60 GSM (grams per square metre). Non-woven plastic bags have a cloth-like texture but are counted among plastics.

However, plastic or PET bottles, counted among the most recyclable types of plastic, have been left out of the scope of the ban. 

How ban will be implemented

How does the government plan to enforce the plastic ban across the length and breadth of the country? In April this year, the CPCB launched the Monitoring Module for Compliance of SUP — an online portal — to provide fortnightly updates on how the ban is progressing. 

“This is one of two platforms we have launched. While this one is public-facing, there is another portal for urban local bodies and other authorised agencies to feed their inputs of what they have found during inspections etc.,” a CPCB official told ThePrint on condition of anonymity.

“The CPCB is working with the state boards to monitor the ban,” the official added.

According to the Comprehensive Action Plan released by the CPCB, raw plastic suppliers have been instructed not to engage with manufacturers making banned items. Those producing banned single-use plastic (SUP) items, on the other hand, were expected to reduce their inventory to zero by 30 June.

The plan also envisions a system where district and state authorities will create lists of those selling banned SUP items, and revoke their licences.

“Some states are conducting more than 100 field inspections, and there’s been a lot more support this time, so the rollout has been smooth so far,” the CPCB official said.

In a press release dated 18 June, the government had said that “capacity building workshops” were organised for MSME units “to provide them technical assistance for manufacturing of alternatives to banned single-use plastic items”.

But banning even select plastic items is an ambitious plan, considering India generated 34,69,780 tonnes of plastic waste (including single-use plastic) in 2019-2020.

“Along with the SUP ban, there need to be guidelines on the collection and recycling of alternatives as well,” said Swati Singh Sambyal.

Some alternatives, like compostable plastics, can only be composted industrially.

Challenges the ban is likely to face

The final selection of items to be included in the “low utility” SUP items category was based on the recommendations of a committee constituted by the Ministry of Petrochemicals in 2019. 

Noting that several of the recommended items (such as plastic bags) had already been banned by states, the committee said in its report that “the responsibility of the local bodies in managing plastic waste, and the responsibility of producers/ importers/ brand owners/ Extended Producers Responsibility (EPR), have not been fulfilled”.

As many as 25 states, including Maharashtra (which generates the most plastic waste), have banned plastic bags, but these bans have been largely ineffective because of the widespread use of these items.

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)  is a principle requiring manufacturers of plastic items to collect and recycle their products so they do not become a hazard to the environment after disposal.

“The implementation of EPR is a challenge because of post-consumer waste. There’s a huge amount of littering, making it difficult for manufacturers to get back the waste. There are not enough channels or infrastructure to ensure it comes back to us,” said Hiten Bheda.

The Plastic Waste Management Rules of 2022 have tightened the mandates of EPR, requiring manufacturers to collect a higher target of plastic waste in a shorter period of time.

While the ban attempts to reduce the amount of plastic in circulation throughout the country, it is unlikely to address the root cause of India’s mounting garbage problem: the lack of waste segregation. 

Without waste segregation, the recycling and incineration of waste, including dry plastics, is much harder than if it were segregated.

(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)

Also Read: High presence of microplastics in Ganga, level of pollution maximum in Varanasi, study says


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