Believe it or not, from a thimble to an airplane, plastic can be found everywhere. Plastic products have become such an essential part of our lifestyle that even banning them cannot make them disappear. So strong is the hold of the habits that we have been building over the years. To understand how ingrained plastic has become in our lives, we just need to look at Uttar Pradesh. It became the 19th state in the country to ban plastic products. However, it was forced to impose the ban three times. Now, third time around, the state is determined to get rid of plastic by announcing a fine up to Rs 1 lakh and six months of imprisonment to offenders.
On one hand, the ban is a boon to our mother earth, who is being strangled by plastic. But on the other, the ban also affects the plastic industry and its ancillaries. For instance, it is estimated by the Plastic Bag Manufacturers Association of India that when recently the Maharashtra government imposed a ban on plastic bags with or without handle and disposable products made of plastic and thermocol, it had hit the industry hard. Apparently, over three lakh people lost jobs overnight and the industry posted a loss of Rs 15,000 crore since the ban. At least 2,500 of its members had no option but to shut their operations, according to the association.
Now, these manufacturers are devastated by the ban in Uttar Pradesh. Manish Kumar, a trader and supplier of plastics bags, glasses and cups in Noida, says: “I don’t know what to do now. My entire business has just stalled; the shop is on the brink of closure. Authorities are raiding us and the ban has caused a huge loss. The government should have given us some time and alternatives. This sector is unorganised, and we do not have any strong associations to go and ask for help.”
Meanwhile, the Uttar Pradesh government is gung-ho about the ban and has passed an ordinance the Plastic and other Non-Biodegradable Waste (Use and Disposal) Ordinance, under which the ban will be imposed in a phased manner. From 15 August, all non-biodegradable plastics, including polythene, nylon, PVC, polypropylene, polystyrene, thermocol and carry bags under 50 microns, including cups and plates, will be banned. From 2 October, all types of plastic and polythene disposables will be banned.
People residing in the National Capital Region are already using cloth and paper bags; shopkeepers refuse to give polythene bags and instead ask people to bring their own bags. Gaurav Gupta, who trades in plastic products in the Harola area of Noida, is one of the few traders who are complying with the new law. He says that he realised that the government is earnest in banning plastic after the ban was imposed last year. “After the half-hearted ban last year, we were already alert and stocking less plastic. But, some community members have suffered a huge loss and are worried about what will happen next,” he adds. Gupta says that he is prepared this time and selling products that are more than 50 microns in thickness and non-woven bags.
Necessity of ban
According to a report by The Energy and Resources Institute, 15,342 tonnes of plastic waste is generated every day in India and there is no organised mechanism to deal with this waste. Another study, “The Assessment and Characterisation of Plastic Waste in 60 Major Indian cities”, which was jointly conducted by the Central Institute of Plastics Engineering and Technology and the Central Pollution Control Board, states that 94 per cent of the plastic waste generated is recyclable and belongs to the thermoplastics family, while six per cent is non-recyclable thermosetting plastics. The data indicate that the majority of the plastic waste generated comprised the HDPE/LDPE materials, such as polybags and multilayer pouches used for food packaging of noodles, chips, gutkha, etc. Further, the study also observes that households are the largest source of plastic waste. Here, the biggest concern is segregation and re-aggregation of plastic waste made of laminated plastic or packaging waste. A large chunk of it is recycled, but unsegregated and littered waste that cannot be recycled remains scattered in urban areas. This causes choking of drains and releases chemicals in landfills that could lead to fire incidents, among other hazards.
A Kanpur-based non-governmental organisation Eco Friends is involved in environmental activism since 1993. One of its projects is creating awareness among people about the ill effects of plastic products. Rakesh K Jaiswal, its founder and executive secretary, praises the ban. “This step was long due. I am happy that the government, at last, is doing something about plastic pollution. Kanpur has an enormous number of factories that caters to the plastic industry. The non-biodegradable products were heavily polluting the Ganga. Almost the whole dump of garbage consists of plastic waste whenever we lead the campaigns for cleaning ghats. We are also running a campaign ‘Say No to Poly Bags’ for making people aware,” he says.
“We traders are also worried about saving environment. Plastic products which are cheap, convenient and secure should not be banned from the market,” says B C Bhartia, the president of Confederation of All India Traders. The issue should be properly researched and a white paper should be published comparing effects of plastic, cloth and paper manufacturing and usage on the environment.
Not surprisingly, the Uttar Pradesh Plastic Trade Welfare Association (UPPTWA) has started an anti-plastic ban agitation and has announced an indefinite strike by vendors who deal with the banned plastic products, especially plastic bags. Gaurav Jain, a member, points out that the ban will bring misery to those who solely depend on the plastic industry for survival. “There are no restrictions on established brands like Nestle and Patanjali. Instead, the government is prosecuting small traders and vendors,” says Jain. According to him, big brands are using plastic packaging material which is under 50 micron in thickness, most of them being 35 micron and are non-biodegradable pollutant.
An estimation done by the UPPTWA states that annually the turnover of Uttar Pradesh’s plastic traders is around Rs 100 billion and by 2 October more than 2,000 manufacturing units making carry bags, cups and plates will shut down. This will also impact the state revenue, resulting in a loss of 18 per cent. Further, the ban will take away jobs of at least more than one lakh skilled labourers and heavily impact their families, including manufacturers, traders and makeshift shopkeepers.
Jain further says, “Since the day ban is announced, plastic products are getting negative publicity, and now no one is buying our products. Stockists are going to lose their money, though it cannot be calculated specifically how much they will lose. Those who have taken loans for their businesses are worried and seek help from the association. In turn, we are meeting higher authorities to come up with some solution for our trader community.”
Banning plastic has brought misfortune for small vendors and traders who are in plastic business, especially for those who have taken loans to establish their business. Bhartia opined that banning plastic that could not be collected for degrading and disposing below 50 micron should be promoted as these plastic leads to polluting water bodies. But rather raiding traders and charging them with fines, civic attendants should ban manufacturers from making such plastic products.
He further questions the governance he said, “Municipal Corporation had to deal with collecting, process and disposing of the plastic trash but it failed in creating awareness. Now they are stopping trader’s community to their business.” He also suggests that government should create new innovative packaging solutions rather than banning the plastic.