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Monday, Oct 14, 2019

Banning single-use plastic calls for a Herculean effort | Opinion

To be sure, the ban is on six items — plastic bags, cups, plates, small bottles, straws and certain types of sachets. The national objective, as per the PM, is to wipe off the use of all single-use plastic by 2022.

gurugram Updated: Sep 17, 2019 10:35 IST
Shubhra Puri
Shubhra Puri
Gurugram
Single-use plastic refers to disposable plastic that finds a one-time use. It is the most visible and used plastic; in fact, more than 50% of all plastic produced is single-use plastic.
Single-use plastic refers to disposable plastic that finds a one-time use. It is the most visible and used plastic; in fact, more than 50% of all plastic produced is single-use plastic.(HT FILE)
         

The other day, as I was strolling down Vyapar Kendra Market in Sushant Lok-I, I saw the unabated use of plastic in shop after shop. The toy shops had teddy bears hung outside in thick, glossy plastic bags, the dry-cleaning shops displayed readied business suits in long plastic canvases, and the carry bags that were being doled out to customers were the typical multi-coloured polypropylene bags. As I came outside the busy market, cows were eating from a large open mixed waste dump, much of which had polythene bags. With so much reliance on plastic, the on-ground scenario made me think: Are we indeed ready to implement the single-use plastic ban announced by the Prime Minister, starting October 2, 2019?

Single-use plastic refers to disposable plastic that finds a one-time use. It is the most visible and used plastic; in fact, more than 50% of all plastic produced is single-use plastic. To be sure, the ban is on six items — plastic bags, cups, plates, small bottles, straws and certain types of sachets. The national objective, as per the PM, is to wipe off the use of all single-use plastic by 2022. While it is the first time that a nationwide call against plastics has been made, it will need a Herculean effort from all quarters — the government, the manufacturers, the product users and the end consumers — to abolish single-use plastics. In the past, most states have declared bans and strict penalties on the use and manufacture of certain kinds of plastic. At the national level too, the Plastic Waste (Management and Handling) Rules were put into place as early as 2011 and the Plastic Waste Management Rules were introduced in 2016, but the rules were of little use.

Clearly, the fight to make India plastic-free is not an easy one. We will have to break away from the lure of plastic. The end consumer has to say a brave no to plastic carry bags and polythene bags while shopping, and replace them with cloth bags, stop buying plastic water bottles when on the move and use metal bottles instead, stop buying food items in plastic containers, avoid plastic cutlery and straws when eating outside or while organising events, and say no to products delivered in plastic packaging from online companies. That will, to my mind, reduce the demand.

There are some positive changes already. The Airport Authority of India has banned single-use plastic items at 16 airports. Some airlines have announced that they will not use plastic products on their flights. Some manufacturers have shifted from using plastics to renewable and biodegradable packing material for their products. A large e-commerce company recently announced that it is replacing poly pouches with recycled paper bags and bubble wraps and airbags with carton-waste shredded material. Another e-commerce giant has said that it will eliminate single-use plastic from its packaging by June 2020. These companies are also beginning to collect back a part of the plastic as part of the Extended Producers’ Responsibility and recycle it. Besides, more conscious citizens are replacing plastic kitchen jars, plates, lunch boxes and bottles with stainless-steel or metal items. Cloth bags are now in more supply and have become fashionable too.

In spreading awareness about plastics, two to three messages are paramount. One, plastics never get degraded but get broken down into smaller, minute pieces, and these microplastics enter our food chain and humans and animals end up eating and drinking from them. Plastic in landfills percolates down and pollutes our groundwater. If we burn it instead, it pollutes the air. Two, it is most unhealthy to use low-grade plastics for food and beverages. This needs to be stopped immediately. Lastly, very little plastic gets recycled; what is largely done is down-cycling of plastic to lower grades and reusing it. However, downgraded plastic still stays in the environment.

Let Gurugram take a serious note of the nationwide call for a plastic ban and be among the first few cities to declare it is as being free from the use of single-use plastic.

(Shubhra Puri is the founder of Gurgaon First, a citizen initiative to promote sustainability in Gurugram through workshops and research books.)

First Published: Sep 17, 2019 03:36 IST

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