The most debatable global topics are incomplete without this inseparable, versatile yet menacing material “Plastic”. We (India), the global host nation of the world environment day,2018 on the theme “Beat Plastic Pollution” had taken an “unprecedented” pledge (as described by the UN) of eliminating all single-use plastics by 2022. Even economically developed giants like the United Kingdom staggered in their declaration by putting the end towards 2042, our pledge demands an ambitious move to set right and be an example. Plastics have become the worry word for the world. With our oceans choking in plastics, the thought of plastics exceeding the fish by 2050 is being the most frightening nightmare. Ineffective waste management is to be blamed.
In India, 25 states have some form of the plastic ban (either partial or complete). Of this, Jammu and Kashmir, Maharashtra became the latest states to ban certain plastics in January & March 2018 respectively. Tamil Nadu recently joined the list by enforcing a ban on single-use plastics from this year 2019.
Among the southern states, Tamil Nadu is in a long list of good achievements. Unfortunately, Plastic usage also joins this list. TN is the leading manufacturer and consumer of plastic (9 lakh tones of plastic consumption at revenue of over 18,000 crore rupees). A study puts Tamil Nadu in the third position nationally for plastic waste generation next to Maharashtra and Gujarat.
What are banned and What not?
The government order on June 25 banned the manufacture, storage, supply, transport sale or distribution of certain “use and throw away plastics”. The ban is enforced under the provision of the Environmental Protection Act, 1986 to protect the environment from non-recyclable plastic waste that blocks the drains and sewers apart from polluting water bodies. Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board also acknowledged that factors like industrial pressure and livelihood concerns can’t override the environmental damage single-use plastic that it is causing.
Gearing up for the race
Although the decision is commendable, there is a serious skepticism in implementation. India had published a report in collaboration with the UN Environment on “Single-use plastics: A roadmap for sustainability presenting case studies from 60 countries”. The report analyses the complex relationship in our plastic economy and offers an approach to rethink how the world produces, uses and manages single-use plastics.
The preparatory work from our state government involves the creation of a committee headed by the Chief secretary and three Regional coordinators for receiving petitions from stakeholders. A way back before 16 years, the bill, unique one of its’ kind in India “Tamilnadu Plastic articles (Prohibition of sale, storage, transport & use) 2002” enacted by the state legislature was withdrawn due to economic constraints and time demanded by consumers to shift from plastic. This bill will again had to be placed on the table. Apart from restricting manufacturing and sale of certain plastic products, it also covers the penalties and the power of the Government in giving directions for implementing and regulating of the ban.
According to the reports by The Hindu on the District wise steps taken on plastic management, Kanchipuram had declared penal action since August 16. Salem had already enforced a ban on single-use plastic in three of its bus terminals. Coimbatore through its smart city arm had taken up the promotion of alternatives to plastic. Hoteliers have been approached to shift to alternatives. Coimbatore, Madurai, Tirunelveli districts also have set up kiosks selling cloth bags and other alternatives for plastic by involvement of women self-help groups. There is already a ban on plastics in some ecotourist spots in the state.
Gearing up against Obstacles
No policy can be a success until constant vigilance and monitoring framework are established. There are many loopholes to be addressed to ensure a meaningful result.
First, the proposed bill does not prohibit the export of banned items outside the state. There must be a total ban on export so that the restriction on the manufacturing of such items can be ensured. One shall be take easy the ban be implemented in the stipulated time frame that does not affect the economy. KG Ramanathan, India center for Plastics in the Environment, said such sudden bans can be devastating in low-income plastic business communities.
The Salem city chamber of commerce general secretary, Jayaseelan claimed that at least five lakh people were employed either directly or indirectly through plastic manufacturing and sales. What went unnoticed and escaped the government’s memory was that the government gave permission to start plastic industries till April and then announced the ban. For the new manufactures who have applied and gained loans during that time in scope for the business, it is a surely a loss for them.
Second, lack of versatile alternatives. Alternatives to plastics are limited and not yet made affordable. From the manufacturing side, technical barriers and gap in innovative infrastructure awareness exists. Further, there is a general perception that the government only targets the small-scale business like street vendors, retailers leaving the big ones unpunished. The things that are still exempted and escaped the ban are the non-recyclable materials like multi-laminated packages, plastic spoons, chocolate wrappers, Plastic flex boards and hoardings. Technical consideration to be regarded is recognizing the need to check the credibility of the biodegradable bag is also a major task as all claims as “biodegradable” is truly not degradable.
There is a general perception that the government only targets the small-scale business like street vendors, retailers leaving the big ones unpunished.
The reality is we are more dependent on single use plastics and whether knowingly or unknowingly using them had become as our habitual action. Restaurants is the major contributor of single-use plastics is the food sector that faces the greatest challenge for plastic. Facing this extensive and towering challenge relies on upcoming innovations and it is mainly linked with consumer behavior also.
Learnings from the past and peers
A comprehensive and more specific roadmap for implementation is the need of the hour. Learning from the past and our peers (fellow states and abroad) proves the best way for progress. The striking feature of Maharashtra’s plastic ban is the incorporation of Extended Producers/Sellers/Traders Responsibility (EPR) as the single-use plastic only form 47% of the total plastic waste. The state has decided to exempt virgin food grade plastic pouches for milk. To promote collection, reuse, recycling, traders have been asked to develop a payback depository system. Through this scheme, the deposit paid at the retailer can be collected upon handling the pouches to the store.
EPR targets must be accounted at a national level. We are still at the beginning stage and must take steps to act and come up with policy instruments like take back schemes, pay –as waste users’ fees, advanced disposal fees, deposit refund schemes and recycling/composting incentives for traders.
A support from MSME Sector in eco-friendly alternatives for plastics is must for bringing up innovative entrepreneurs. We need to create role models from the top. If the government and large business groups becomes 100% plastic free it will be easy to communicate the message to masses.
Further under the Plastic Waste Management and Handling Rules, 2016, Maharashtra has explained the responsibility of each individual players like waste generators, responsibility of producers, local bodies and gram panchayat, retailers, street vendors, responsibility of CPCB/SPCB. Such clear-cut definitions will enhance governance and ensure accountability.
In Tamilnadu, the Tirunelveli district has received the Centre’s best corporation award for implementing a system that segregates and collects plastic. Every Wednesday is dedicated in a week to collect only the plastic wastes from homes under the banner ‘Litter Free Tirunelveli (LIFT)’. Such systems with proper training of personnel in segregation and awareness in households will improve segregation at source.
Every Wednesday is dedicated in a week to collect only the plastic wastes from homes under the banner ‘Litter Free Tirunelveli (LIFT)’.
Sweden has the world’s best recycling system, beyond restriction and bans they are concentrating more on recycling. Rwanda’s cleanliness model waste management with heavy fines and participation of youngsters sets an example for developing countries. Through a series of strenuous efforts from 2008, Kigali, is now regarded as the cleanest city in Africa. We should learn from them and try to replicate this model.
It’s not the end but a new beginning
After all inspiring stories around us like public cleanup in Mumbai seashore which paved way for olive ridley hatching for the first time in decades, Tuticorin school children constructing their classroom roof from waste plastic bottles and many more innovations springing up. Our actions like eco-friendly marriage functions, meetings, rejecting plastic bags and even a simple act of ditching ballpoint pen in our life will make a significant change.
As said by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, “The choices that we make today will define our collective future.” let us stand by the pledge and make it a reality.
Author, Ganesh Kumar is a Energy and Environmental Engineer. Doing his masters in Environmental Engineering in Pandit Deen dayal Petroleum University, Gujarat. He is doing intern on corporate sustainability in Tata Steels, Jamshedpur. Reach him by mail firstname.lastname@example.org