Thicker reusable plastic bags,biodegradable bags, woven shopping bags can be introduced as alternatives.(HT Photo)
Thicker reusable plastic bags,biodegradable bags, woven shopping bags can be introduced as alternatives.(HT Photo)

Your Space: Plastic ban success depends on strict enforcement, alternatives

‘An analysis of the effectiveness of plastic bag bans’ by Katherine Maloney for the NGO, eCoexist, presents some valuable findings on the subject. Following are some excerpts from that study:
Hindustan Time, Pune | By HT Correspondent
PUBLISHED ON APR 01, 2018 03:28 PM IST

Maharashtra became the most recent state in the country to ban a variety of plastic products, most significantly, the plastic carry bags. Before this, bans were introduced in other parts of the country notably, Delhi, Sikkim, Chandigarh, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, and many parts of the world. ‘An analysis of the effectiveness of plastic bag bans’ by Katherine Maloney for the NGO, eCoexist, presents some valuable findings on the subject. Following are some excerpts from that study:

In most regions in India and some other parts of the world, the bans have been ineffective. The biggest issues are the lack of enforcement and unavailability of viable alternatives to plastic. These problems are not limited to India; they are shared globally. There are many countries worldwide who have implemented plastic bags bans, many of which have experienced challenges.

Examples of successful plastic bag bans

In 2015, California became the first US state to ban single use plastic bags. Before this more than 150 municipalities in California passed local bag bans,including the cities of San Diego, Solana Beach, San Jose, Del Mar and Oceanside. Each municipality had different levels of recorded success. In San Jose, the ban, known as the ‘Bring Your Own Bag Ordinance’ came into effect on January 1, 2012.


The ban, however, became effective in July 2015 and ‘Single Use Plastic Bags’ (SUPB) were included in the ban. These were bags other than a reusable bag provided at the check stand,cash register,point of sale or other point of departure for transporting food or merchandise out of the establishment.Bags exempted from this ban included paper bags made from at least 40%recycled materials for a minimum charge of 10 cents. Stores were allowed to

a) give out compostable bags for a minimum charge of 10 cents

b) sell or distribute a reusable plastic bag to a customer if there usable bag had a handle and was designed for at least 125 uses; had a volume capacity of at least 15 litres; was machine washable or made from a material that could be cleaned and disinfected; carried instructions for recycling and did not pose a threat to public health by containing lead, cadmium,or any other toxic material.As of January 1, 2016, these bags were required to be made from a minimum of 20% post consumer recycled material.

While the ban became effective in 2015, California prepared for the ban since 2006 by passing a legislation that required retailers to adopt a store recycling and other programmes. It laid out a strategy for alternatives for plastic bags and ensured strict enforcement, with fines up to $1,000 a day for violations.

The benefits of the ban were visible in San Jose in the form of 76% decrease in litter reduction by the end of 2016; a 69% reduction of plastic bags in stormwater drains, a 43% increase in consumers using reusable bags and a 30% increase in consumers carrying items without a bag since before the ban.


The Australian Capital Region (ACR) introduced a ban on plastic carry bags in November, 2011. Single use polyethylene bags of less than 35 micron in thickness and degradable plastic bags (less than 35 microns in thickness) were banned in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT).

Before the ban, between July, 2011 to October, 2011, the Australian authorities inspected 1,734 businesses to educate retailers on the new regulations coming into place and to assess whether they were preparing.Before the ban was implemented the ACT government created the Plastic Bags Advisory Group (PBAG) formed of retailers,retail bodies and local associations to provide a forum to identify and address potential issues.They also worked with retailers to raise awareness of the ban, and to help consumers adjust before the ban.

Thicker reusable plastic bags,biodegradable bags, woven shopping bags were introduced as alternatives.

Before embarking on enforcement, the Australian authorities undertook another 714 inspections. Only four breaches were detected.Two of these businesses received verbal warnings and the others received written warnings.No repeat offences were recorded.Penalties can go up to $700 in fines and prosecution.


It should be noted that in both examples of‘successful bans not all types of plastic bags were included in the bans.This could be attributed to their success and can be considered when implementing a ban in Pune.

The Sikkim example

Within India, the ban has been successful in Sikkim where it was introduced in June, 1998. A study by Toxic Link found 66% of shops around Sikkim use paper bags or newspaper and around 34% use plastic bags (which includes non woven). Although the use of plastic is still quite common significantly more people are using paper than in most Indian states.There is no evidence to say whether the paper bags are being reused to the extent required qualifying as more eco-friendly than single use plastics so using this as a measure of success is.

In Gangtok, people using paper-based bags is 62%, whereas in Soreng it is 50%.The use of the conventional plastic packaging is only 8% in Gangtok, compared to 26% in Soreng. So in this example plastic bag packaging is used 18% less in towns than villages– this can be attributed to the higher levels of inspection and therefore risk of getting caught.

In both Gangtok and Soreng. Non-woven bags are popular, this is concerning because they are falsely advertised as eco-friendly when they too are made from plastic and damage the environment. People need to be made aware of these facts so they can make better informed decisions regarding their choice of bag. Additionally, the government should recognise this and include non woven bags in the ban.


In January, 2009 the Delhi government ordered a complete ban on the use of all plastic bags in market areas

October 2012– the Delhi Government ordered a blanket ban on all types of plastic bags. These included all types of plastic bags, plastic sheets and films used to package books, magazines and cards.

Non-woven plastic bags were exempt from the ban.


The ban failed because there was no clear effort from the government to aid the introduction of the ban.


In 2017 the National Environment Complaints Committee released a report stating 24 million plastic bags were being used in Kenya each month. In the capital Nairobi 20% of waste consisted of plastic waste. Kenya has tried multiple times in the past to ban plastic bags. All the previous attempts have failed. In 2005 and 2007, plastic bags with a thickness of 30 microns or less were banned. In 2011, this was extended to include bags of 60 microns or less.

Reasons for failure:

Lack of enforcement of implementation plan; protests and threats from traders; failure to put a recycling system into place to deal with plastic waste and fear of job loss leading to conflict with manufacturers and importers were among the reasons for the failure. Despite these failures, Kenya continues its fight against plastic bags. To eliminate confusion


Essentially, five elements are important for a successful plastic ban: enforcement, alternatives, black market, loopholes and collection/disposal

Enforcement: One of the biggest issues with most plastic bag bans globally is the lack of enforcement. If the laws are not enforced appropriately then compliance is reduced or eliminated. If businesses and consumers know there will be no consequence whether they abide by the law or not, they are likely to ignore new legislation that requires them to make changes to their habits.

Additionally, in countries such as India where there are huge numbers of small temporary independent vendors it is very challenging to monitor their plastic bag use. For example in Delhi the bag ban in plastic was largely successful with large retail outlets and food chains but failed to engage small vendors. Large businesses are much easier to monitor and punish for non-compliance. Large corporations also have higher levels of corporate social responsibility; some maybe global brands who have to maintain their brand image in a variety of markets.


Providing sustainable alternatives is essential for a successful plastic ban. Some of the popular alternatives such as paper bags also come with environmental consequences.

It is estimated paper bags must be used 4 times to compensate for larger carbon footprint, however, paper bags are less durable than plastics or are harder to reuse. Similarly, thicker plastic bags deemed as reusable must be used at least 5 times to compensate for the extra energy required during production. Cotton bags which are viewed by the media as the ultimate switch toward sustainability need to be used at least 173 times to compensate for the extra energy required to produce them.

Cotton bags, if used correctly are superior to the other alternatives as the reuse value of paper and reusable thicker plastic is much less. If cotton bags are adopted and used correctly much fewer bags will end up in landfill as theoretically there would only be 1 cotton bag opposed to 173 plastic bags. Additionally, cotton bags should be capable of reuses more than 173times; this is just the minimum requirement for them to be a viable alternative.

Black market activity

In many cases where plastic bags have been banned in a certain state or country a black market can emerge, where plastic bags are smuggled in from neighbouring states/countries.


When drafting the legislation it is important to identify any loopholes that manufacturers and businesses may be able to exploit. It is also important to consider the types of bags included in the ban. For example, if bags below 40 microns are banned, manufacturers are likely to just start producing thicker bags.

Collection and disposal

Plastic bag bans do not address the larger problem of poor waste disposal systems. These two issues must be tackled together. Banning plastic bags is a huge step to eliminating plastic waste pollution but effective systems need to be in place to remove waste that is already littering the environment, for example, recycling centres, waste disposal centres or alternative energy plants. The government needs to make it clear what consumers are to do with bags after a ban is introduced. Will it be legal to keep plastic bags at home for reuse or will recycling/disposal systems need to be set up in stores or community centres to collect plastic bags.

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