8 Months Into Plastic Ban, How Is Chennai Faring?

Let’s look at Chennai 8 months after the TN government banned non-biodegradable & single-use plastic.

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Video Editors: Vishal Kumar & Mohd Ibrahim
Cameraperson, Reporter:
Smitha TK

On 1 January, the Tamil Nadu government issued a ban on non-biodegradable and single-use plastic. Eight months later, The Quint visited different parts of Chennai to gauge how the city is faring.

An eco-friendly measure, the ban extended to plastic cups, covers, straws, and flags. Since its implementation, major stores, including supermarkets, have switched to sustainable alternatives such as paper or steel straws, cloth or jute bags, and paper or bio-degradable plastic covers. Small roadside eateries and vendors, however, haven’t been able to afford the transition. Customers are to be blamed too, as many still demand plastic bags.

Plastic Still Thriving

Over 80 percent of plastic manufacturing units have begun manufacturing permissible plastic items or shut shop. However, banned plastic is still available in the market. In a way, the ban has simply shut down legitimate manufacturing units and facilitated illegal trade.

The Chennai Corporation has seized over 264 tonnes of banned plastic from 2.63 lakh premises in the last eight months. More than Rs 55 lakh has been collected as penalty. Officials alleged the paucity of sanitary inspectors as the reason behind the ban’s ineffective implementation.

Harish, the owner of the textile store Kala Niketan said, “Each alternative is very expensive and they are not accessible at an affordable rate. Since our store has been there since 1992, we don’t deal with expensive varieties... and for us to make a change has not been easy.”

Balaji Bhavan in T Nagar has been a favourite in the city for the last 28 years, and the management went through a complete revamp after the imposition of the ban.

Balaji Bhavan has ditched plastic and returned to the good old days of serving food on banana leaves.
Balaji Bhavan has ditched plastic and returned to the good old days of serving food on banana leaves.
(Photo Courtesy: Smitha TK/ The Quint)

“The government has now issued these plastic covers which are biodegradable and we no longer use the non-biodegradable ones. We no longer use plastic spoons, have switched to wooden spoons. Also for packaging, we are using government-approved materials. And we now serve food on banana leaves just like old times,” said Murugesan, an employee at the hotel.

Eco-Friendly Isn’t Pocket-Friendly

The change has, however, affected prices. “Yes, it is expensive and not very accessible because we even source the leaves from outside. But we make sure that the customer doesn’t have to bear these costs,” said Murugesan.

When the ban was imposed, Suryanarayana Snacks Centre switched from plastic and aluminium-foil plates to good old banana leaves and paper for packaging.
When the ban was imposed, Suryanarayana Snacks Centre switched from plastic and aluminium-foil plates to good old banana leaves and paper for packaging.
(Photo Courtesy: Smitha TK/ The Quint)

Women who hawk flowers in Mylapore and T Nagar said they tried to switch to leaves and paper bags for packaging but, “Only if you keep the roses and jasmine flowers in transparent plastic covers will customers see and buy them... If they’re not visible from outside, people won’t buy them,” said Meena.

“Banned plastic covers are still available in the market and that’s why we are buying... We can get 100 plastic covers for Rs 20 but one paper bag is Re1. How can we afford that?” asked Sulochana.

  • Women selling flowers in Mylapore and T Nagar said they did try to switch from plastic covers to leaves and paper bags for packaging, but the change was too expensive.
  • Some flower sellers say single-use plastic continues to be sold so they are unsure of whether officials are serious about the ban.
  • Some flower sellers say customers insist they provide plastic covers as paper bags soak the water and are inconvenient.

An Ocean of Plastic Remains

Since the ban, most places in the city don’t hand out plastic bags. Ranganathan Street, one of the prime shopping hubs in the city, is home to every kind of store – textiles, accessories, shoes, and bags, and insists customers bring their own bags or buy a plastic cover or cloth bag for Rs 10-30. We didn’t expect to see much plastic around but taking a walk post 10 pm in the area, we witnessed plastic strewn all around.

In Ranganathan Street  after 10:30 pm, you can see an ocean of plastic.
In Ranganathan Street after 10:30 pm, you can see an ocean of plastic.
(Photo Courtesy: Smitha TK/ The Quint)

All materials which are purchased from godowns and wholesale markets come wrapped in plastic, thus, the ban doesn’t do away with plastic entirely.

Vendors On Board, Customers Lagging Behind

While many vendors are now using eco-friendly alternatives to plastic, they say customers are yet to embrace the ban. Vegetable sellers say they ask customers to bring bags with them but if they don’t, sales are impacted.

“You go to a grocery store/Big Bazaar, they don't give you a bag. They want you to get your own bag and I have to carry a big bag with me which is good because it is good for the environment, but it is inconvenient,” said a customer.

Corporation officials are conducting regular raids and penalising those who continue to use plastic straws.
Corporation officials are conducting regular raids and penalising those who continue to use plastic straws.
(Photo Courtesy: Smitha TK/ The Quint)

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