The Lacunae of Plastic Ban – RSTV: The Big Picture

RSTV: The Big Picture; Telecasted on 23rd June 2018

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Plastic Ban

GS III – Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment

Context

India’s second-populous state Maharashtra has started penalising all those found using plastic products, including single-use disposable items. The State Government enforced the ban after issuing the Maharashtra Plastic and Thermocol Products notification in March this year. The government had given the manufacturers, distributors, and consumers a period of three months to dispose their existing stock and come up with alternatives to plastic usage.

While environmentalists welcomed the state government’s decision, the plastic industry has slammed the government calling it a “retrograde step.” With high dependence on plastics and lack of viable alternatives, the efficacy of ban has become doubtful.

Background

On March 23, the government issued a notification banning the manufacture, use, transport, distribution, wholesale and retail sale, storage and import of plastic bags with and without handle, disposable products, made from plastic and thermocol (polystyrene).

The ban is not applicable to PET bottles,Plastic used for packaging of medicines, compostable plastic bags or material used for plant nurseries, handling of solid waste, plastic bags not less than 50 micron thickness used for packaging of milk, plastic manufactured for export in SEZs and plastic to wrap the material at the manufacturing stage are excluded from the ban.

The ban is applicable to manufacturers and consumers as well as the chain in between, which includes shops, hawkers, vendors and offices.

The penalty for violating the ban starts from ₹5,000 (first offence), ₹10,000 (second time) and ₹25,000 (third time) with three months in jail.

The Debate

Arguments in favour of Ban:
  • Single use plastics once created, it stays in earth forever. They either end up in dump yard or incinerators.
  • Collection and segregation are most tedious process in plastic waste management cycle.
  • Plastic recycling technology is at nascent stage and it turns out to be inefficient and costly.
  • Plastics burned in incinerators set up to generate electricity, create heat at 25% efficiency. This is much lower than the 55% efficiency for new gas-fired power stations.
  • Burning plastic and other wastes releases dangerous substances such as heavy metals, Persistent Organic Pollutants, and other toxics into the air and ash waste residues.
  • Such pollutants contribute to the development of asthma, cancer, endocrine disruption, and the global burden of disease. Persistent Organic Pollutants travel long distances, and ultimately deposit into the ocean and polar ice caps, where they can adsorb onto other plastic marine debris and microplastics, bioaccumulating up the food chain, threatening marine and human health.

    Plastic: The Real Picture!
Arguments against the ban:
  • Ban cannot be the solution, as plastics are entrenched in lives of the people so deep that it cannot be separated. Hence bans are not pragmatic; non-implementation of the same takes away the credibility of the government.
  • Problem is not the plastic production, problem is the litter. What needs to be remembered is that plastic bags were made for a purpose, and that the main complaint is against the way that they are used — not their existence.
  • More dangerous variants like laminated, muti-layered plastics and thermoplastics which are tough to recycle are out of the ban.
  • Bans are actively monitored and enforced only for a few months. With passage of time, the enforcement authority loses vigour in implementation.
  • Paper as a replacement to plastic is not viable because, paper is made from trees hence it supports deforestation and more energy is utilized in manufacture and transport of paper compared to plastics.

Way Forward:

  • Research and development for plastic recycling must be boosted. Polymer Injection technology a new intervention in plastic recycling must be focussed.
  • Paper, metal and glass industries must come forward with cost effective products to replace plastics.
  • Reduce, Recycle and Reuse must applied to plastic and social engineering campaigns must be conducted to instil behavioural change among people.
  • Refuse and Redesign can be added to 3Rs.
  • Collection and segregation of plastic can be incentivised by government by providing fair prices for plastic waste.
  • Extended Producer Responsibility as mentioned in “Plastic waste management rules, 2016” must be well defined and guidelines to hold producers responsible must be laid out. Producer accountability can be ensured by “take back mechanisms”, deposit refund schemes, etc.

The plight of plastic waste management can be addressed only by collective action of government, industries, civil society organisation and people.