Maharashtra Plastic Ban is an Ill-Conceived, Superficial Solution

The govt needs to offer sustainable solutions to the problem rather than arbitrarily banning plastic.

Published
Environment
4 min read
Nagpur Municipal Corporation (NMC) worker seize plastic material at a shop during an inspection following a plastic ban, in Nagpur on Saturday, June 23, 2018.
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The Devendra Fadnavis government in Maharashtra recently imposed a state-wide ban on plastic that is reportedly said to result in a loss of up to Rs 15,000 crore and nearly 3 lakh jobs. The ban includes carry-bags and thermocol.

While usage of plastic is an inalienable part of our daily lives, it is also harmful for the environment. But simply banning it doesn’t seem to be the solution.

Can we look for alternative sustainable solutions to the plastic problem without impacting the livelihood of millions who are part of the industry?

A Quick Look at India’s Plastic Industry

In India, the plastic industry has grown exponentially over the years. India consumes around 11 kilograms of plastic per capita per year, while the world consumes 28 kilograms on an average. There are also around 50 thousand units involved in producing plastic in the organised and unorganised sectors.

The industry is worth approximately Rs 1,50,000 crores. It directly employs around 15 million workers in India.

The ban imposed by Maharashtra from Saturday has hit the industry very hard and the plastic industry is staring at a loss of Rs 15,000 crore, leaving nearly 3 lakh people jobless overnight.
Neemit Punamiya, General Secretary, Plastic Bags Manufacturers Association of India to PTI 

The growth of the industry is estimated to be around 12 percent and exports are expected to double from 7.9 billion dollars to around 15 billion dollars in the next five years.

A further impetus will be given to the plastic industry due to migration, which is expected to rise to 140 million by 2020, leading to more domestic plastic consumption.

Depicting the industrial scenario helps us understand its importance in terms of employment and dependency.

But the question remains: is banning the use of disposable plastics the right approach, or is the Maharashtra government simply brushing the real concerns under the carpet?

Dependence on Plastic Vs Environmental Hazards

To wish away plastic through legislature is impossible, and the onus to regulate its use and disposal lies on the government.

In spite of that, the Indian packaging industry has been growing at a 15 percent rate in the last five years. The retail sector has received a boost because of the ever-growing Indian middle-class, resulting in innovation in packaging for processing food, beverages, cosmetics etc.

Moreover, the middle-class has fuelled the demand for smaller innovative packaging for sustaining brand equity. The automobile industry uses around thirty percent plastic while making vehicles, leading to more economical cars and simultaneously fueling demand for more plastic.

At the same time, plastic is severely affecting marine life, the soil and human beings. More than 80 percent of tap water in India has been found to be contaminated by plastic fibres which cause diseases. Marine animals ingest plastic with toxins thereby contaminating the food chain. Often, plastics get stuck in their guts, thereby killing them.

Plastic Variants & Alternatives

A considerable amount of research has been conducted to mitigate the problem of plastic pollution. Some of these have led to the introduction of bio-degradable plastics. Non-polymer based plastics, also called biopolymers, degrade when exposed to UV rays and other methods. Some countries, like the UAE, have passed laws making it mandatory to use biodegradable plastics.

These bio-plastics have helped reduce plastic pollution, but have not been as effective, as the polymers stop degrading after a certain time, bringing us back to square one.

This brings us to alternatives.

The replacement of carry bags with jute or cloth is a viable option but the high cost of manufacturing makes people shy away from this alternative. The government needs to provide subsidies to make these options a legitimate alternative in our everyday lives.

Neither has the government initiated a proper policy towards the management of plastic waste, nor has it successfully invested in tackling the source of plastic pollution. On the one hand, we have ‘Make in India’, which emphasizes on the chemical industry which needs plastic. This policy has also allowed 100 percent FDI in the construction sector which relies on plastic.

Over the coming years, the industry as a whole will receive a big boost, but the ban on plastic could cause a policy paralysis in the country.

To add to the concern, the concept of ‘waste segregation’ in each home is largely not being followed. Therefore, landfills are over-filled.

A clear synergy between the industry and environmental policy is lacking. Even though India hosted this year’s World Environment Day on 5 June, a proper road map for tackling the problem of plastic pollution is yet to come.

It is thus important to address the following question: are we ready in terms of policy, research and alternatives in introducing this ban?

We Need to Be Part of the Solution

A change in the mindset of consumers can help in the reuse and recycle of plastic waste by simply segregating waste.

Use of plastic in construction of Asphalt roads is a welcome step, wherein a sizeable quantity of scrap plastic can be used. (The process of) extrusion of reusable plastic for making paver blocks for roads is another example of sustainably developing plastic waste.

Construction of affordable, low-cost, plastic houses is another way to recycle everyday plastic. Research on sustainability must be accounted for by state governments. A knee-jerk reaction without any sustainable solution is a bad way to tackle the problem.

In my opinion, Maharashtra’s GDP is well poised for a hit, besides the ripple effect on other industries and the loss of jobs. Therefore, the solution lies not in a ban, but in finding a sustainable solution to one of the biggest problems affecting our environment today.

(Kamruzzaman Choudhury is the founding member and research co-ordinator at the South Asian Institute of Sustainable Development and can be reached at choudhury@saisd.org.in. This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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