Multinational companies like Amazon Inc. and H&M are lobbying to soften the ban against single-use plastic imposed by Maharashtra last week, according to sources familiar with the matter.
The ban by Maharashtra, home to India’s financial capital Mumbai, could sharply raise costs for companies, such as retailers, beverage makers and sellers of bottled water, that rely heavily on plastic for packaging.
Maharashtra's move, the first such broad action plan against plastic by an Indian state, comes as Prime Minister Narendra Modi is pushing a plan to completely end the use of single-use plastic in India by 2022.
Plastic packaging accounts for nearly half of all plastic waste globally, and much of it is thrown away within just a few minutes of its first use, according to the United Nations.
Representatives of companies such as Amazon, H&M, Pepsi and Coca-Cola, as well as plastic industry bodies and lobby groups met with Maharashtra government officials days before the ban came into effect on June 23, urging them to implement the rule in phases and relax some norms, said the sources who did not wish to be named.
Our demand to the government is: give the industry seven years to come up with alternatives. It cannot happen overnight – we’ve got investments, we’ve got loans to pay and people to manage.Neemit Punamiya, General Secretary, Plastic Bags Manufacturers Association of India.
The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, whose members include online retailers such as Amazon India and Flipkart, said in a letter to the state government, dated 7 June, that such a ban “will not be without its own share of adverse environmental impacts which are largely driven by issues associated with the use of alternatives”.
The Internet and Mobile Association of India, which counts Amazon and Flipkart as its members, said it had asked the state to ease the rules but did not specify what relaxation it was seeking.
Beverage makers such as Pepsi and Coca-Cola, meanwhile, want an exemption from the rules as they mandate a buyback of empty bottles at a guaranteed price, which will raise costs, another source familiar with the talks said.
Amazon, Flipkart, Pepsi and Coca-Cola did not respond to requests for comment. H&M said in a statement that it supported reusing and recycling, adding that the company had asked the government to clarify the rules and sought help for coming up with solutions.
Maharashtra’s environment minister said on Wednesday that the government would relax rules for neighbourhood grocery stores allowing them to pack commodities such as rice and pulses in plastic. They would, however, have to ensure buyers return the packaging for recycling.
A senior state official told Reuters that the government could moderate some aspects of the rule for online retailers as well or give them more time to comply. Another official confirmed that issues raised by the industry were being looked into.
Both officials requested anonymity as the talks are not public.
Maharashtra's plastic ban includes items such as bags, food containers, spoons, forks, glasses and packaging wraps, which the local plastics industry says could cost up to 150 billion rupees ($2.20 billion) a year and nearly 300,000 jobs.
For online retailers, cost is one of the main issues.
An executive from an e-commerce company said that packaging charges comprise about 2 to 3.5 percent of fulfilment costs – the price of shipping, delivery and compensating sellers for discounts – and that the use of biodegradable plastic or other alternatives could escalate these costs.
Cardboard boxes, for example, could cost nearly a third more than plastic packing, according to industry estimates cited by The Economic Times.
Since the ban came into force, squads of officials in Mumbai have been raiding shops and restaurants, sometimes accompanied by police, to enforce compliance.
Violations result in penalties of up to Rs 25,000 and jail term of up to three months.
Nidhi Choudhari, Mumbai’s Deputy Municipal Commissioner, said more than 1.3 million rupees have been collected in penalties so far.
Bharati Chaturvedi, founder of the Chintan environmental advocacy group in New Delhi, said she feared the plastics industry would use any compliance extensions to try to put off the ban indefinitely.
"We should really have a hard ban," she said.
(Published in an arrangement with Reuters.)