Maharashtra’s ban on plastic bags should not be an end in itself | mumbai news | Hindustan Times
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Maharashtra’s ban on plastic bags should not be an end in itself

Maharashtra’s proposed ban is more a reaction to reports that carelessly thrown plastic trash clogs drains and causes flooding, rather than to any serious thought about the environment

mumbai Updated: Nov 19, 2017 22:34 IST
Manoj R Nair
Environmentalists said the bans have to extend beyond bags and water bottles.
Environmentalists said the bans have to extend beyond bags and water bottles.(HT File)

Maharashtra will ban a variety of plastic products from March 18, the state’s New Year. It had earlier announced a ban on plastic bags, but has now decided to extend the prohibition to one-use food containers made of plastic foam, locally called thermocol. There will also be a ban, in government offices and hotels, on PET — polyethylene terephthalate, a polymer resin — bottles used for packing drinking water.

But ,nothing has been said about the other types of plastics that plague the environment. Experts have said multi-layer packaging — which comprises a metal film sandwiched between recyclable plastic — is a growing environment threat. This material, which is used to pack crisps, tea and other foods, is not recycled, according to Almitra Patel, a member of the Supreme Court Committee for Solid Waste Management that was set up to help cities work out ways to deal with their trash disposal problems. The Plastic Waste Management Rules 2016 Rule 9 (3) says the manufacture and use of non-recyclable multilayered plastic shall be phased out by March 2018.

Maharashtra’s proposed ban is more a reaction to reports that carelessly thrown plastic trash clogs drains and causes flooding, rather than to any serious thought about the environment.

Plastic is a scourge that is devastating the earth. An estimated 12m tonnes of plastic enters the oceans each year. A study by Orb Media this year said fibres, produced by plastic waste breaking down, were found in 83% of tap water samples tested from across the world. In India, 82.4% of the samples had plastic fibres. The contamination rate was 94.4% in the United States and 72.2% in Europe. While there have been no findings on the health impact of the fibres on human health, plastic residues have found in fish, sea birds, marine mammals.

Marine life and birds are eating microplastics — particles less than 5mm in diameter created by the breaking down of larger pieces of plastic and discarded polymer-derived textiles — mistaking them for food. Even seemingly-innocuous items such as plastic drinking straws are disastrous for our ecosystem. The straws, which are made of polymer, dyes and plasticisers — to make them pliable — do not biodegrade naturally and can remain in the environment for centuries, leaching chemicals into soil and water. Online shopping companies use plastic for packing merchandise.

Environmentalists said the bans have to extend beyond bags and water bottles. “If the ban is on single-use plastic, it will have an impact,” said Nandikesh Sivalingam of Greenpeace India. “But, banning single-use plastic is the first step, and not an end in itself.”

Apart from bans, taxes and surcharges on plastic use are another way to reduce its use. Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, equivalent to our Minister of Finance, recently suggested a tax on single-use plastics used in takeaway cartons and packaging. The ministry said more than a million birds and 100,000 sea mammals and turtles die each year after eating or getting trapped in plastic waste. The government is also trying to reduce the dumping of unrecyclable takeaway drinks containers such as coffee cups.

Environmentalists said controlling plastic use is difficult, owing to its variety. “What needs to be done is complicated. There are new types of plastic in the market and categorising them is a challenge,” said Sivalingam. “

Plastic manufacturers agreed that plastic is a problem for the environment, but think that Maharashtra’s ban is ill-conceived. “The ban on PET bottles is the worst thing they can do [to reduce plastic waste],” said Akhilesh Bhargava, who represents the All India Plastic Manufacturers Association. “They are targeting a product that has a 90% recycling rate. “Alternative choices, such as glass bottles, will have a great carbon footprint [in the form of energy and materials needed to make the bottles and recycle them].”

Bhargava said plastic manufacturers are ready to work with the government and experts to find ways to recycle materials like multi-layer packaging. “When we use multi-layer packing, we are looking at food security and increase in food shelf life. Scrap collectors do not pick it up because it is scattered, but it can be recycled — to create fuel — and we can have facilities to collect the bags,” said Bhargava.