- A ban on the use of single-use plastics that was notified by the Union Environment Ministry in August 2021 came into effect on July 1 this year.
- The notification said national and State-level control rooms would be set up to check illegal manufacture, import, stocking, distribution, sale and use of banned single use plastic items.
- The Plastic Waste Management Amendment Rules, 2021, will also prohibit manufacture, import, stocking, distribution, sale and use of plastic carry bags having thickness less than 120 microns with effect from December 31, 2022.
What is single-use plastic?
- The Centre defines it as an object made of plastic that is intended to be used “only once” before being disposed off or recycled.
- For the purposes of the ban, there is a list of 21 items that come under the definition of single-use plastic including ear buds with plastic sticks, plastic sticks for balloons, plastic flags, candy sticks, ice-cream sticks, thermocol for decoration, plates, cups, glasses, cutlery such as forks, spoons, knives, straw, trays, wrapping or packing films around sweet boxes, invitation cards, and cigarette packets, plastic or PVC banners less than 100 microns, stirrers.
- Plastic packaging waste, a major contributor to the much larger problem of plastic waste pollution, isn’t yet covered under the phase-out of single-use plastic items. Mineral water bottles or plastic bottles of aerated drinks are unaffected by the ban, though, in popular imagination, they are representative of ‘plastic pollution.’
How will the ban be implemented?
- According to the Environment Protection (EP) Act, violating the ban could invite “punitive action”. Manufacturers and distributors of single-use plastic goods were directed to have zero inventory by June 30.
- The EP Act says that violating the ban could invite a five-year imprisonment and a fine of upto ₹1 lakh, or both. If the violations are repeated, it could mean additional fines up to ₹5000 for each day. There are different penalties for companies, organisations, and government departments under the EP Act.
Is there popular support for the ban?
- The All India Plastic Manufacturers Association has said that the ban would shutter 88,000 units in the plastic manufacturing business. These employ close to a million people and contribute to exports worth ₹25,000 crore.
- Fast Moving Consumer Goods companies (FMCG) would be severely affected by the ban due to their dependence on plastic straws, plates. Their replacements, industry representatives say, are available but cost much more than their plastic alternatives.
- There is also limited capacity in India to provide biodegradable replacements.
- Average and prominent consumer goods companies have written to the government requesting a six-month extension before the ban takes effect and that companies that are likely to go out of business be compensated.
What is the environmental damage from single-use plastic?
- Unlike thicker and denser plastic material, single-use plastic objects being light and flexible are less amenable to being recycled. While 99% of plastic is recycled, they constitute heavier plastics that are likely to be collected by ragpickers and plastic waste recyclers.
- Single use plastics do not provide an incentive enough for the effort needed to collect them and hence they lie around, leach their toxins into the soil and cause environmental damage in both land and sea.