The Lacunae of Plastic Ban
TOPIC:General Studies 3
- Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment
In News: From June 23, India’s second-populous state Maharashtra has started penalising all those found using plastic products, including single-use disposable items. The Devendra Fadnavis-led 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.
Woes of the Plastic Industry
While environmentalists welcomed the cabinet’s decision, the plastic industry has slammed the government calling it a “retrograde step.” The state government may have banned plastics used in polypropylene bags — needed for packaging food items, including liquids and food grains — but has strangely not banned plastics made up of laminated multi-layered packaging which is used by companies for packaging wafers and other food stuff.
While the normal plastic bags are always recycled, the ones containing such multi-layered packaging are not recycled as they contain mutltiple subtracts of different materials which is not feasible for recycling. Almost all the snack making companies pack their products in such packaging.
Gone against its own undertaking to the Bombay High Court: The state government seems to have gone against its own undertaking to the Bombay High Court. On February 7, when the state environment department issued a notification calling for a ban, the MPMA had filed a petition in the high court claiming that the ban will be issued only after hearing the stake holders. But the state government did not discuss with the plastic manufacturers, and unilaterally went ahead with the ban.
Problem is not the 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.
Why is there no waste management?
- Lack of political will – One of the biggest obstacles to the implementation of plastic bans on the ground
- Waste segregation at source: Inability to successfully enforce the same
- Not enough facilities for ragpickers
The Argument – Paper over Plastic
One of the most comprehensive research papers on the environmental impact of bags, published in 2007 by an Australian state government agency, found that paper bags have a higher carbon footprint than plastic. That’s primarily because more energy is required to produce and transport paper bags.
People look at paper and say it’s degradable, therefore it’s much better for the environment, but it’s not in terms of climate change impact. The reasons for paper’s higher carbon footprint are complex, but can mostly be understood as stemming from the fact that paper bags are much thicker than plastic bags.
The Way Forward – Good environmental management is key
Many environmental activists are calling for a ban on plastics. However, the very properties that make plastic so dangerous – its durability and long lifespan – also make it a great asset. A material that will not die or be destroyed for five hundred years is valuable. We can reuse it almost endlessly. The problem is not plastic itself. The problem is using it irresponsibly.
- Banning is never the solution but stern actions should be. The answer to the problems associated with thin plastic bag use is not a ban, but better management. The 3Rs — reduce, reuse and recycle — of solid waste management (SWM) also apply to plastic bags. We need substitutes for plastic, incentives to re-use, and better waste disposal.
- A blueprint to transform “filth into wealth” is the need of the hour. A comprehensive legal and policy framework to streamline and commercialize the process of plastic recycling must be created. What compounds the problem is the non-recognition of the recycling sector; a refusal to understand how recycling and waste management production processes function.
- It is the plastic industry’s responsibility to raise the necessary social awareness about responsible use and recycling. If we can show people that plastic is precious, you will not find a piece of plastic waste anywhere.
- Need for many waste to energy plants with present technology to convert into polymer injection technology.
- There is a need to make a major change on the behaviour front and the government needs to make cheaper alternatives available to people.
Connecting the Dots
- “Sure-footed baby steps are way safer than hasty giant strides”. With reference to the current plastic ban in the state of Maharashtra, analyse the statement.