Goodbye, polybags

- September 27, 2019
| By : Patriot Bureau |

The ban on single-use plastic is already showing an impact among Delhi’s vegetable and fruit vendors. If supply dries up, the ban will be effective The nation-wide ban on single-use plastic ban, a pilot project taken up by the BJP-led NDA government, will be implemented on October 2, when India will commemorate the 150th birth […]

Indian shopkeeper (R) sells plastic bag to his customers at wholesale shop of plastic bags in Amritsar on May 5, 2018. (Photo by NARINDER NANU / AFP)

The ban on single-use plastic is already showing an impact among Delhi’s vegetable and fruit vendors. If supply dries up, the ban will be effective

The nation-wide ban on single-use plastic ban, a pilot project taken up by the BJP-led NDA government, will be implemented on October 2, when India will commemorate the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. Several states have earlier banned the usage of polythene bags and other plastic materials but the ground reality paints a different picture, where even after imposing fines and restrictions by the authorities, the vendors and public return to the same polybags as it happens to be “cheaper and more affordable.”

Situated in Noida’s famous Atta market, the Haryana Store owner says that one cannot completely eliminate polythene as every second product is made of plastic. “How can the government ban single-use plastic entirely? If the alternative is not ready and every second product one picks up in the shop is made up of single-use plastic, then eventually we’ll have to pack our bags and shut shop,” said the owner.

When this reporter asked to buy polythene bags for lining dustbins, the shop owner said, “These are the last few left. We have been told by the dealer that he won’t be sending any more as production has halted.” The shopkeeper was not ready to give a receipt for the black polybags sold.

When Patriot approached Radha Krishnan, spokesperson of the South Delhi Municipal Corporation, he claimed that the Tagore Garden’s fruit and vegetable market has become the “first plastic free” market and “SDMC also identified five markets each in its all four zones to give plastic-free status.”

Krishnan elaborated, “We have achieved our goal of making our market plastic free through an effective mass awareness campaign and with the support of market associations and shopkeepers. We have to follow a sustainable approach towards building a health environment by eliminating single-use plastic and take stringent measures to reduce dependency on plastic. This can be implemented well by reducing the use of plastic. The initial step includes eliminating the use of plastic bottles, cups, plates, knife, straws, plastic wrapped snacks and basic items in our daily life.”

Interestingly, when this reporter visited the Tagore Garden market, the claim proved to be only partially true as around 40% of the vendors and shopkeepers were still using traditional polythene bags. One of the banana vendors said, “Now I have changed my policy and give bags to only those who buy a minimum of six bananas. Otherwise below that, the customer will have to carry it in their own hands. We also encourage our customers to bring their own carrybags if possible.”

Giving details about the economics of bags, the vendor said, “I used to keep polythene but after SDMC’s order, I have switched to this jute bag which costs Rs 2 per bag. Polythene costs 50 paise per bag, which was quite reasonable. But after SDMC warned of imposing Rs 5,000 fine, it is much wiser to start using the jute bags.”

The other fruit vendors joined in and started talking about the ban, saying, “All this is temporary. The situation will get clear only on October 2. Polythene has been banned earlier by subsequent governments but due to the high price and low availability of the alternative, we stuck to the polybags.”

When asked why some of the vendors were still using polythene, the banana vendor said, “Yes, some of them are still using polythene. They are not defying the administration — rather, they just want to finish their stocks. Now the polybag supplier is nowhere to be seen. He must be selling his stock in black but even his fate will be decided on October 2.” The banana vendor refused to show me his jute bags—  only he knows what he was hiding.

In a report by UNEP, more than 60 countries across the globe have either restrictions or bans on production and usage of plastic. Ironically, only 30% of these countries saw a drop in consumption as the enforcement of the law is not easy.

As per the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), around 26,000 tonnes per day of plastic waste was generated in 2017-18 and out of it, 9,400 tonnes per day was left uncollected. According to a report by The Energy and Research Institute (TERI), 43% of manufactured plastic is used for packaging and as it takes 1,000 years for a PET bottle and other plastic products to decompose, they are seen in our environment. Often, animals like cows end up consuming polythene when they browse through garbage heaps and kitchen waste thrown out in plastic bags.

The CPCB data also listed states that generated the most plastic waste (2017-18) which includes Maharashtra, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka.

Dr Rekha Singh, an expert on municipal waste who has worked in over 35 countries dealing with waste management says, “Banning plastic is not a new thing but it’s the implementation which calls headlines. We have been saying ‘Stop using plastic’ but first we must stop producing plastic; in the 1990’s the vendors did not have polybags but in 2019 everyone has them, so instead of blaming the end user every time, the government must implement its policies strictly and immediately stop producing these single-use plastics.”

When asked whether the ban will work, Singh told Patriot, “It’s not just one single statement that we are banning it, we need to work extensively and come up with options that have sustaining quality. Like if one wants to stop the usage of plastic water bottles, then there must be an option of water dispenser, water ATM etc. and then only water bottles can be banned.”

Giving an example of pollution through cars, Singh says, “Delhi government brings in the odd-even scheme but cheap car loans encourage people to buy cars and not use public transport. Also the government should increase parking charges. In the UK, for two days the parking fee is so high that automatically number of vehicles reduces. So this dual nature of maintaining an equilibrium must stop and such laws can be implemented. But we must avoid blaming the end user every time.”

The future of this anti-plastic drive lies in the hands of the government and bureaucrats, as Dr Singh says that “If the BJP government is serious and not doing this for any publicity, and keep auditing, raiding big stores, keeping a check on the alternatives, then restricting the usage of single-use plastic might be feasible. Polythene is anyway cheaper than the jute bags and if anything is cheaper, then it’ll go to the ground level.”

In a study by the CPCB, Delhi topped among metropolitan cities with a total of 689 tonnes of plastic waste being generated every day. In Delhi, the quantity of plastic waste was assessed at 10.14%, which comprised of 76% HDPE/LDPE, 7% PVC and 10% polystyrene. These materials are plastic bags, food containers, shopping bags, bottles, plastic films and sheets. Apprehensions are present in the minds of hawkers and shopkeepers but the usage of polythene is still prevalent at various places like ITO, Sarojini Nagar market, Tagore Garden, Pragati Maidan among others.

Jai Prakash, Chairman of Standing Committee at the North MCD, told Patriot about the initiatives taken up by the corporation in order to eliminate single-use plastic. “We are campaigning and spreading awareness by using polyester instead of plastic which is recyclable; then we have written letters to the 104 councillors in our zone to start this Jan-Jagran Abhiyan and they are holding meetings with Resident Welfare Associations, market associations,” he said.

Detailing the alternative, Jai Prakash said, “We have started a bartan (utensil) bank in Sadar Bazaar area in Ward No 80, where we tend to use steel plates and glasses in several functions orgainsed at the RWAs, markets, religious places like jagrans, etc. All the North MCD schools and NGOs are also being approached to spread awareness about the plastic usage and shift towards the polyester and jute bags among others.”

While plastic bags have been banned by some states in the past, this necessary evil has always made a comeback to the markets. Jai Prakash said, “It’s easy to procure polythene and hence we are making it tough. The difference from the past initiative is Prime Minister Narendra Modi requesting everyone to avoid single-use plastic. We will be able to implement it in phases, not immediately.”

Overall, it seems that while vendors and shoppers will soon adjust to the new system, it’s the fate of the polythene bags supplier which will hang in the balance. Will he reinvent himself?