Plastic pollution Photograph:( Reuters )
With India's bold step, all products made of single-use plastic including plastic straws, plastic cutlery, plates, cups and glasses, earbuds, thermocol items, wrapping films around sweet boxes, invitation/greeting cards and cigarette boxes, will be off the shelves from Friday
The next time you visit the markets in India, you may not find plastic cups, straws, cutlery, earbuds and thermocol as the country-wide ban on single-use plastics, which have been a threat to the planet and ecosystem for decades, comes into effect from July 1.
The Indian environment ministry issued a notification to ban single-use plastics below 100 microns in August 2021 to be implemented from July 1, 2022.
Plastics are huge contributors to climate change. 130 million metric tonnes of plastic were discarded globally in 2019.
In its fight against the climate crisis, India has decided to put a blanket ban on not just manufacturing, but sale, purchase, import, distribution, stocking and any kind of usage of single-use plastics (SUPs), including polystyrene and expanded polystyrene.
Plastics take forever to break down and emit toxic greenhouse gases.
With India's bold step, all products made of single-use plastic including plastic straws, plastic cutlery, plates, cups and glasses, earbuds, thermocol items, wrapping films around sweet boxes, invitation/greeting cards and cigarette boxes, will be off the shelves from Friday.
Also, plastic carry bags under 100 microns of thickness will be banned from July 1, 2022, while those up to 120 microns will be banned by the end of the year.
While several restaurants and people have consciously broken up with single-use plastic, markets still have a huge stock of such products to do away with.
The organized sector though seems prepared to deal with the ban and switch to alternatives.
However, it is the unorganized sector and small shop owners who seem hassled and unprepared, especially regarding the cost of alternatives to single-use plastics.
Some small restaurant owners expressed concern that the cost of alternatives was costing almost double that plastic.
"The move to ban plastic is good but we need cheaper alternatives. We were using plastic containers to deliver food items but now with the ban coming into effect, the only alternative we know is paper containers. But they are very expensive. One plastic box 250 ml capacity costs us Rs 6 while the same in paper costs us Rs 11-12," said a restaurateur who did not wish to be identified.
Indian Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav said that enough time has been given already to get to rid of single-use plastic.
The ban was first announced by India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi on August 15, 2021.
Though environment experts termed it as a critical step by India towards controlling the plastic menace, they also felt that the ban on plastic carry bags is not novel.
As many as 25 Indian states and Union territories have already banned them, as per the latest report of the country's pollution watchdog Central Pollution Control Board.
"While states say it is difficult to regulate this item based on plastic thickness, it is clear that the enforcement is inadequate," said Indian think tank Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).
Another pollution expert said that it was a welcome move by India which would reduce plastic waste generation in the country.
"We welcome the ban on single use plastic items by India and hope that this would be enforced on ground by the regulatory/monitoring bodies and supported by citizens. The ban will help reduce plastic waste generation in the country," said Ashish Jain, Director, Indian Pollution Control Association (IPCA).
But what happens if you don't abide by the ban in India?
It may attract stringent provisions under the Environment Protection Act, which entail a jail term of up to 5 years and fine up to Rs one lakh.
However, India's Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav said that the power to take punitive action rests with urban local bodies and the state pollution control boards.
Penalties may vary from state to state.
For example, in India's national capital, the municipal corporations could levy a fine ranging between Rs 500 and Rs 5,000.
Yadav said that the Indian government does not want to create a panic among citizens and wants to encourage the practice of choosing alternatives to plastics, some of which are already available.
"We want people's participation and cooperation in this movement to eliminate the plastic menace. We don't want this to be done out of fear," Yadav said.
Apart from India, several other nations have pledged to eliminate single-use plastic.
Canada recently announced that it will ban the manufacture and import of SUPs by the end of this year.
Bangladesh became the first country in 2008 to ban thin plastic waste while New Zealand banned plastic bags in 2019, and China announced plastic ban in 2020. Several states in the United States have banned it too.
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