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India imposes ban on many single-use plastics to tackle waste

  • 1 Jul 2022

For the first stage, Delhi has identified 19 plastic items that have a high potential to become litter and has made it illegal to produce, import, stock, distribute or sell them.

India banned some single-use or disposable plastic products as a part of a longer federal plan to phase out the ubiquitous material in the nation of nearly 1.4 billion people. ( Rafiq Maqbool / AP )

India has imposed a ban on many single-use plastics in a bid to tackle waste choking rivers and poisoning wildlife, but experts say it faces severe headwinds from unprepared manufacturers and consumers unwilling to pay more.

Estimates vary but around half of plastic waste in India comes from items used once, and Friday's new ban covers the production, import and sale of ubiquitous objects like straws and cups made of plastic as well as wrapping on cigarette packets.

Products such as plastic bags below a certain thickness and so-called multi-layered packaging are exempt for now.

The country generates around four million tonnes of plastic waste per year, about a third of which is not recycled and ends up in waterways and landfills that regularly catch fire and exacerbate air pollution.

Stray cows munching on plastic are a common sight in Indian cities and a recent study found traces in the dung of elephants in the northern forests of Uttarakhand state.

Authorities have promised to crack down hard after the ban – first announced in 2018 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi – came into effect.

Inspectors are set to fan out from Friday checking that no suppliers or distributors are flouting the rules at risk of a maximum fine of 100,000 rupees ($1,265) or five-year jail sentence.

READ MORE: ‘Critical milestone’: UN member states confront plastic pollution

Resistance

Around half of India's regions have already sought to impose their own regulations but as the state of rivers and landfill sites testifies, success has been mixed.

Ravi Agarwal, the director of Toxics Link, a New Delhi-based advocacy group that focuses on waste management, said that the ban was “a good beginning,” but its success will depend on how well it is implemented. The actual enforcement of the law will be in the hands of individual states and city municipal bodies.

Plastic manufacturers had appealed to the government to delay the ban, citing inflation and potential job losses. But India's federal environment minister Bhupender Yadav said at a press briefing in New Delhi that the ban had been in the pipeline for a year.

Jigish N Doshi, president of industry group Plastindia Foundation, expects "temporary" job losses but said the bigger issue was firms "which had invested huge capital for machines that may not be useful" after the ban. 

He suggested that the government could offer subsidies and other forms of support to develop and purchase alternative products.

India said that the banned items were identified while keeping in mind the availability of alternatives: bamboo spoons, plantain trays, wooden ice-cream sticks. But in the days leading up to the ban, many vendors said that they were confused.

Moti Rahman, 40 a vegetable vendor in New Delhi said that he agrees with the ban, but added that if plastic bags are stopped without a readily available and equally cost-effective replacement, his business will be impacted.

“After all, plastic is used in everything,” he said.

READ MORE: Air pollution reduces two years of global life expectancy

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