The ban on use of plastic bags along with the use of plastic spoons, plates, etc has come into effect. Already, the move has caused a lot of confusion since a number of plastic related products have been left out of the ban. Environmentalists, politicians and experts believe that implementation of the ban is the primary challenge. A report.

The Maharashtra ban on single-use plastic products has come into effect. Well-intentioned, the move, however, is not one of its kind. Many countries around the world have brought in bans on plastic bags. While some have achieved success, others have been partially successful.

What is the ban all about? The list of banned products include all kinds of plastic bags (both with and without a handle), all plastic or thermocol cutlery such as spoons and plates, non-woven polypropene bags, food containers, plastic packaging, and PET and PETE bottles. However, there are a few exemptions and these are plastic used for medicine packaging, food grade plastic, plastic used for the handling of solid waste, and also that used for manufacturing and exporting purposes, along with compostable bags for agriculture. Maharashtra Environment Minister Ramdas Kadam also allowed thermocol for decoration and fish storage. What is important to note is that multi-layer packaging, that is packaging with metal, paper and plastic together (such as chips packets or tetrapacks) that are major contributors to the plastic waste have been left out of the ban. These sachets and multi-layer packaging are very difficult to recycle.

The Maharashtra government has also decided to exempt food packaging material from the ban. However, plastic manufacturers will have to follow state government guidelines that includes mentioning the name, address and contact number of their registered firms. Also, the manufacturers will have to obtain the registered number from Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB), which will have to be mentioned on the packaging material.

Fines can be imposed of up to Rs 25,000 and a 3-month sentence for regular offenders, while first and second-time offenders are to be charged Rs 5,000 and Rs 10,000 respectively. In fact, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) in Mumbai has conducted inspections and raids around the city since June 23, which is when the ban was first imposed.

In fact, a number of people are opposed to the way that the law has been made. According to Aravindhan Nagarajan, a research associate and PhD candidate at the School of Habitat Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, has been doing research on the subject and his paper, Maharashtra’s War on Plastic: Toll on Mumbai’s Recycling Industry (published in EPW sometime ago) speaks of the effects of the blanket rule on society and industry.

Nagarajan was of the view that the ban was not thought out properly. The Mumbai municipal authorities, for example, do not have the capacity to handle the volumes of plastic waste that is generated by the metropolis.

His study points out, “The problems of implementation of a plastic ban are not unique to India. Across the world, bans on plastic (primarily polythene bags) and taxation of plastic bags have achieved mixed results, with many of them failing even in the developed world (Stephenson 2018). In the state of California, the ban on plastic bags has largely been successful in reducing single-use plastic bag waste (Los Angeles Times 2017).However, in Austin, Texas, the ban on plastic bags had an unintended consequence. Residents of the city began “throwing away heavy-duty reusable plastic bags at an unprecedented rate,” thereby defeating the purpose of the ban on single-use plastic bags (Minter 2015). In the developing world, Kenya promulgated an ordinance of a nationwide ban on plastic bags; a decision welcomed by environmentalists, but one that has been mired in controversy for its selective implementation, often labelled as corruption.”

Nagarajan comments that “beyond implementation, there is also a great deal of arbitrariness which surrounds the ban, beginning with the vague and broad set of reasons provided for its imposition. These include the nuisance of litter created by plastic bags (its non-biodegradable nature, the clogging of drains by plastic bags, its presence in water bodies and its excessive presence in landfills), the harm caused by plastics to marine and animal life (cows in particular), and as a potential threat to health. The Maharashtra state Environment Minister Ramdas Kadam claimed that plastic is a “major cause behind diseases, sometimes life-threatening diseases” (New Indian Express 2018).”

He goes on point out that “while there are reports on the impacts of plastic waste on marine and animal life the world over, the scope and extent of this problem is still uncertain.…Far from the blanket claim made by Kadam, plastics in themselves are not a health hazard. Many forms of plastic are used for packaging and storing medicines and also in surgical equipment. While the use of certain additives and presence of plastic granules may pose health problems, the plastics sought to be banned in Maharashtra have not been identified as health hazards.”

Incidentally, the ban is in effect in 25 states and union territories in the country. Sometime ago, for instance, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in a judgment pulled up the Delhi state government and demanded that it make at least one market in the capital plastic-free.