Can Mumbai repeat its success at garbage reduction for its plastic ban plan?

There is scepticism whether the state’s ban is implementable – in the absence of a cheap and sustainable alternative to plastic

mumbai Updated: Mar 05, 2018 00:38 IST
Manoj R Nair
Manoj R Nair
Hindustan Times
Mumbai,plastic ban,waste management
The Mumbai municipal corporation has claimed that thanks to waste segregation rules, the amount of trash that the city sends to its three landfills has reduced by 2,300 metric tonnes per day.(HT FILE)

Two weeks from now Maharashtra will introduce a ban on a variety of plastic products. The ban, which will be effective from March 18, the Marathi new year day, will cover plastic bags, one-use food containers made of plastic foam locally called thermocol, and materials used in flex banners. The aim is to ease the pressure on filled-to-the-brim landfills and to reduce the threat to the environment by carelessly discarded plastic

Plastic is a scourge. A study by the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSC), published in the journal Science Advances, has estimated that the world has produced 6.3 billion tonnes of plastic by 2015, but recycled only 9% of this output. Additionally, we incinerated 12%. Since none of the commonly used plastics are biodegradable, the rest of our plastic production has ended up in landfills or is cluttering our natural environment.

The study also looked at the lifetime of plastic products, or the time it takes for a plastic item to be discarded. The researchers looked at eight categories according to use. Packaging material, which is one of the biggest areas of concern, with the increase in e-retailing, takes less than a year to be discarded. Plastic used in construction can remain in use for decades, thus limiting its damage to the environment.

The study said that of the 275 million tonnes of plastic generated in 2010, eight million ended up in the oceans, where they lie irretrievable and is being churned into tiny bits by wave action and other environmental factors like salt and the sun. These microplastics can find their way into the digestive systems of marine animals and from there, through the food chain, into our bodies. There has been no study on the impact of these plastics on living organisms though larger pieces of plastic discarded in seas and rivers can choke and injure marine life. Roland Geyer, associate professor at UCSC and the lead author of the study has said, “We cannot continue with business as usual unless we want a planet that is literally covered in plastics.”

Blue Planet II, a television series narrated by Sir David Attenborough has shocked viewers with its images of a plastic plague. Places across the world have tried to control this scourge. The United Kingdom’s levy on plastic bags has reduced use by 85%. The country is talking about banning the innocuous looking plastic drinking straws that can remain in the environment for centuries before breaking down. Other countries like France, Kenya and Rwanda have banned plastic bags. So Maharashtra’s plan to restrict plastic production and use is commendable.

There is scepticism whether the state’s ban is implementable – in the absence of a cheap and sustainable alternative to plastic. There are also doubts if the restriction on production and use of plastic will meet its environmental goals.

But there is hope. Last year, Mumbai’s municipal corporation made it compulsory for large housing colonies and establishments like restaurants and hotels to segregate their garbage, composting organic waste like food discards while sending reusable trash like plastic, glass and paper for recycling. As reported by this newspaper, the municipal corporation has been fining and prosecuting housing estates and large establishments for not segregating and treating waste. The punitive action, it seems, has yielded results.

The municipal corporation has claimed that the amount of trash that Mumbai sends to its three landfills has reduced by 2,300 metric tonnes per day. It was estimated that before the waste segregation rules came into effect the city sent around 9500 metric tonnes of garbage to the landfills; the compulsory segregation of garbage has reduced this output by 24%. Mumbai’s output of garbage can be reduced further. The municipal corporation’s Environment Status Report for 2017 estimated that over 70% of the city’s waste is food waste, which means that if this garbage is processed close to its source Mumbai can further reduce the truck trips to the landfills.

The plastic manufacturing industry, which is opposing what is calls a ‘blanket ban’, has asked the government to restrict the prohibition to plastic items that are less than 50 microns thick. This ban already exists but is poorly implemented.

First Published: Mar 05, 2018 00:38 IST