Single-Use Plastic Ban on October 2 - Highlights.

As October 2 approaches, single-use plastic (SUP) items are set to disappear from our surroundings: railway stations, government offices, court and university premises, markets and more. Food and FMCG companies are working against the clock to put plastic waste management mechanisms in place, while restaurants are hurriedly substituting SUP bags, cutlery and straws with greener alternatives.

But how did this entire ban come about? And what exactly is going to be banned after October 2? Although there is no official word from the Central government about the latter yet, we try to piece together information based on recent announcements and developments.


Why is India banning single-use plastic?

Plastic is one of the biggest environmental hazards of our time.

Untreated plastic waste affects the environment in multiple ways: by entering the bodies of marine mammals, choking water bodies, and by leaching heavy metals and chemicals. The average Indian consumed 11 kilogrammes of plastic in 2014-15, and this is expected to rise to 20 kg by 2022. As a country we generate 26000 tonnes of plastic waste daily, of which 40% remains uncollected.

SUPs constitute a huge volume of the overall plastic problem, because much of it is neither biodegradable nor recyclable. According to The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), around 43% of plastic produced in India is for packaging purposes, and most of that is single-use.

Therefore, on World Environment Day 2018, India had pledged to eliminate single-use plastics (SUPs) by 2022. Earlier this month, at a conference in New Delhi, Prime Minister Modi had said his government would put an end to single-use plastic in the coming years.

What kinds of items are likely to be banned?

The Central government has not yet released a list of items to be banned, but it is expected that plastic bags, straws, cups, small beverage bottles, decoration items and some sachet variants may be banned from October 2nd, 2019.

The state of Maharashtra, meanwhile, has notified the banned categories. These categories include PET bottles with less than 200ml capacity, plastic mineral water pouches, and plastic shopping bags with or without handles. Single-use disposable items made of thermocol like cups, plates, saucers, spoons and straws have also been outlawed, as have plastic and thermocol decoration material.

So what’s allowed? Bottles with size larger than 200 ml featuring printed MRP can continue. Authorities will also allow recyclable multilayered plastic used in chips packets, shampoo pouches, oil packet and chocolate packets. Domestic-use items like bottles, buckets, mugs can also be sold, according to the Maharashtra government.

What are the penalties for violating SUP bans?

The penalties vary by state, the nature of offence, and the category and weight of items used.

Last month, legislators in Goa approved a bill setting fines from Rs 2,500 to Rs 3 lakh, for manufacture, sale and use of single-use plastic items and carry bags. In Himachal, using one-time plastic cutlery will set you back by Rs 1000 (for individuals) and Rs 5000 (for commercial establishments). The state had earlier banned thermocol cutlery, with fines ranging from Rs. 500 to Rs 25000 according to the weight of the items.

Meanwhile in Maharashtra, a first-time offence related to any of the banned categories will invite a fine of Rs 5,000, while the second offence will face a penalty of Rs. 10,000. A third-time offender can get slapped with 3 months’ imprisonment and Rs 25,000 as fine. Other states are still in the process of formulating or fine-tuning penalty structures.

What will happen to the plastic once collected?

The Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) under India’s Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016, states that manufacturers, importers and brand owners will have to set up collection and safe disposal mechanisms to buy back and treat SUP waste. Food and FMCG giants like Unilever, Pepsi, Nestle, and Colgate have already taken steps to collect their waste. However, activists say that EPR rules still remain vague, and that this will hurt their implementation.

Some innovative approaches might hold out hope. In Bengaluru, waste plastic has been used to lay 2000 kilometres of road by a local organisation using a patented technique. Similar approaches have been used in Chennai, Indore and Noida. More recently, students at IIT Delhi successfully converted SUPs into diesel under the ‘Make in India’ project. These efforts hold out hope that sustainable and eco-friendly uses can be found for the lakhs of tonnes of plastic that will be collected after the ban.

Who is expected to be most affected?

Everyone. Consumers will have to find alternatives to plastic cups, bags and small bottles. Restaurants will need to find alternatives to plastic straws and cutlery; some like McDonald's and Starbucks already have started. PET bottle manufacturers and packaging industries are expected to be hit by the ban. And if the nationwide ban extends to thermocol and plastic decorations, substitutes will need to be found for functions and festivals. The ban is expected to come with some initial implementation confusion. But on the whole, it is largely agreed that a ban on SUPs is the need of the hour, and that the trouble and pain will eventually be worth it.

Current Affairs Home