India imposes broad single-use plastics ban as businesses and waste pickers brace for disruption
04 Jul 2022 --- The Indian government has imposed bans on a wide range of single-use plastic products to combat the nation’s pollution problems, which the UN estimates to contribute to around a third of the world’s 11 million metric tons of marine trash annually.
The ban was first proposed in 2016 by Prime Minister Modi, and the government hailed its implementation three days ago as “a defining step to curb pollution caused by littered and unmanaged plastic waste.”
“The choices that we make today will define our collective future. The choices may not be easy. But through awareness, technology and a genuine global partnership, I am sure we can make the right choices. Let us all join together to beat plastic pollution and make this planet a better place to live,” Modi proclaimed.
The list of banned items includes earbuds with plastic sticks, plastic sticks for balloons, plastic flags, candy sticks, ice-cream sticks, PS for decoration, plastic plates, cups, glasses, cutlery such as forks, spoons, knives, straws, trays, wrapping or packaging films around sweet boxes, invitation cards, cigarette packets, plastic or PVC banners less than 100 microns thick, and stirrers.
Manufacture, import, stocking, distribution, sale, and use of such items is now punishable by up to five years in jail, a 100,000 rupees (US$1,200) fine, or both.
However, the legislation is expected to cause massive disruption to India’s 50,000 plastic manufacturing units, primarily small and medium-sized companies that combined employ around 400,000 people. Other consumer conglomerates that depend on plastic will also be impacted.
Moreover, roughly 5 million people in India depend on the informal waste economy – collecting trash from public dumps and taking them to recycling centers. These waste pickers now also face uncertain futures.
While certain Indian territories have already made unsuccessful attempts in the past to ban single-use plastics, this national legislation is expected to see a more concerted crackdown. The government says national and state-level control rooms will be set up, and special enforcement teams will be created to check the illegal manufacture, import, stocking, distribution, sale and use of banned items.
States and Union Territories have also been asked to set up border checkpoints to stop the inter-state movement of any banned single-use plastic items.
However, there is doubt among India’s 1.4 billion people that their government has the necessary resources or infrastructure to enforce the new laws.
The Center for Science and Environment in New Delhi recently stressed that there must be a system of incentives to drive industry and consumers toward phasing out single-use plastics.
Even the government’s Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Climate Change concedes: “The success of the ban will only be possible through effective engagement and concerted actions by all stakeholders and enthusiastic public participation.”
Last year, India became the first Asian country to launch a plastics pact. The Plastics Pact for Asia combines WWF India and the Confederation of Indian Industry with the goal of making all plastic packaging reusable or recyclable by 2030.
The Pact is supported by UK-based NGO WRAP and funded by UK Research & Innovation, with further funding to support the program’s delivery provided by Stewart Investors.
In March this year, India joined all other UN member states in unanimously agreeing to develop a legally binding treaty to end plastic pollution. However, as negotiations on the terms of this historic treaty continue, divisions are cementing between environmental NGOs and industry bodies around the flexibility of its implementation.
By Louis Gore-Langton
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