Monday Musings: State’s plastic ban 1.0 - Is the glass half-full?
The people of Pune have done better than the government of Maharashtra when it comes to the ban on plastic products introduced in the state since June 23.
As reported by this newspaper, the government initiative has already lost steam within the first 15 days of the ban itself. The aggressive enforcement drive and the stiff fines imposed by the Pune municipal corporation (PMC) have all but subsided if not forgotten. The government has itself relaxed the plastic ban by allowing some concessions and exempting carry bags of 50-micron thickness. The retailers are more or less happy that the government authorities will not hound them any more for stocking illegal plastic bags in an election year. All of this, of course, reflects poorly on the Maharashtra government for announcing a ban and then making a mockery of it.
This flip-flop is the characteristic of Indian governments and Indian administrations proving once again that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is no better than the Congress when it comes to enforcing laws in the country. They suffer from lack of political will and seek narrow political gains, and therefore allow important rules and regulations to be violated by the masses. Action against illegal constructions, encroachments, traffic violations and other transgressions, big and small, is often selective and arbitrary. In the process, our country suffers, because the rule of law has no respect.
Having said this, the plastic ban in Maharashtra has a silver lining to it: There are thousands of us citizens who have started using cloth bags and won’t go back to using plastic carry bags. Many of the big chain departmental food stores and many other retailers have replaced plastic bags with paper bags. Many of our schools have helped change the mindset of our children by drilling an aversion for plastic into their young minds.
The revulsion for plastic – because of the enormous harm it does to us and our environment – is turning into a worldwide phenomenon. To be seen with a plastic carry bag will soon make one look ugly and unfashionable just as it has happened with smoking cigarettes. It is no longer cool.
The Guardian said in a recent article that while we may be drowning in plastic, the “tide is starting to turn.” We are very close to the tipping point when it will become embarrassing “to hold a plastic water bottle.”
Indeed, one time use plastic bottles must be shunned, like the plague. There are many airlines, hotels, conferences and offices which serve four mouthfulls of water in small use-and-throw plastic bottles. People take four sips and throw the bottle, thus mindlessly generating waste. The Guardian said that 480 billion plastic bottles were sold worldwide in 2016; one trillion single-use plastic bags were consumed in a year, and more than half a million plastic straws were used every day.
The ubiquitous plastic bottles need to be the next target in the cross-hairs. It is better to carry our plastic bottle of a litre or a half and re-fill it with safe, filtered water if required.
The next big test for the Maharashtra Government will come a few months from now during the Ganpati and Diwali festivities. Will the government stay firm on its ban on thermocol and prevent the sale of thermocol decorations and lanterns? That is what the government will be expected to do unless it wants to lose face once again. Going by the public’s acceptance of the plastic ban, thermocol decorations as they would be seen as tainted stuff.
Indeed, the plastic ban in Maharashtra has not been a complete failure; it is leading to a mindset change. The glass is half-full.