As part of its efforts to combat global warming and prevent single-use plastics from having a negative impact on the environment, India will outlaw their usage as of July 1.
Beginning July 1, some single-use plastic products with limited utility and a high potential for littering will no longer be produced, imported, stored, distributed, sold, or used.
List of Items Banned
The list of banned items include ear buds with plastic sticks, plastic sticks for balloons, plastic flags, candy sticks, ice-cream sticks, polystyrene (thermocol) for decoration, plastic plates, cups, glasses, cutlery such as forks, spoons, knives, straw, trays, wrapping or packing films around sweet boxes, invitation cards, cigarette packets, plastic or PVC banners less than 100 micron, stirrers.
“The items have been chosen on the basis of three criteria – their low utility, high littering potential and availability of alternative materials. We know that the manufacturers of these banned items have already shifted or are in the process of shifting, and notices had been sent out by the CPCB last year to these companies alerting them of the ban and to begin the process. We have given manufacturers plenty of time for preparation – 11 months – before the ban was to come into force. We believe that we have their support and cooperation,” said Environment, Forests and Climate Change Minister Bhupender Yadav said at an informal press briefing.
The use of these items by consumers is also banned. But the minister has said, that penalties are unlikely to be transferred to the consumer as, “If the banned item simply does not exist in the market, then it can’t be used.’’
Dr. Vijay G. Habbu, a senior polymer scientist and an adjunct professor at the Mumbai-based Institute of Chemical Technology defined single use plastics saying, “Single use plastics refers to plastic items that are used once and discarded. SUPs have among the highest shares of plastics manufactured and used — plastics for packaging to polythene bags, face masks, coffee cups, cling film, trash bags, food packaging, etc. These different SUPs are made from different plastics, each having distinct physical/chemical properties. All these plastics are assigned different specific codes for identification & recycling. Accordingly, there are 7 such plastic categories.”
“Beyond SUPs, there are many plastic formats that are for multi-use and can be used for much longer safely. For instance, the water bottles are made of a plastic called PET whose recycling code is 01, is one of the clearest, inexpensive, durable, and 100% recyclable plastic that is widely used for packaging foods and beverages, convenience-sized soft drinks, water, juices, and liquid oral drugs formulations. According to a study at the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, PET is completely safe too. As per industry sources, PET’s annual production in India is about 900 kilotons and has a recycling rate of about 85%. PET and other rigid bottles are not counted as SUPs,” he added.
Establishment of Control Rooms to Enforce the Ban
According to the minister, the government will be setting up control rooms at national and state levels to ensure an effective enforcement of the ban. Apart from the control rooms, which will be supervised by the Central Pollution Control Board, special enforcement teams will be formed to check illegal manufacture, import, stocking, distribution, sale and use of the 12 banned single-use plastic items that was announced by the ministry last year. As per the CPCB officials, States and Union Territories have been asked to set up border check points to stop inter-state movement of any banned single-use plastic item.
Plastic Waste Statistics in India
According to the CPCB, plastic waste generation in 2020-21 was 41,26,997 tonnes, while per capita waste generation was 3 kg per annum. There are 683 units manufacturing single-use plastic with a cumulative capacity of 2.44 lakh per annum. The CPCB has already revoked or modified the consent of 433 units.
The CPCB further said that characterization of plastic waste in 18 cities has found that the percentage of single-use plastic in total plastic waste is between 10% and 35 %.
Replacing the plastic
Dr. Vijay G. Habbu, a senior polymer scientist and an adjunct professor at the Mumbai-based Institute of Chemical Technology has said, “Given the ban on single-use plastics effective July 1, 2022, a replacement for this extensively used class of materials is needed urgently. The replacement of single-use plastics (SUP), however, isn’t without its challenges. For a start, alternatives such as those made from paper or wood are actually more damaging to the Environment than plastics. The most significant impact is the high cost of production of the alternative materials. As the cost of the materials increase, it becomes difficult for the producers and the consumers to absorb the higher costs. Having said that, alternatives need to be found as the Government will be heavily penalising usage of SUP products starting July 1, 2022.”
Venturing into sustainable alternatives, Mr. Bikrant Tiwary, CEO, Grow-Trees.com said, “Given the danger that plastic brings to the environment by taking so long to decompose, the decision to ban it was definitely necessary. If understood properly, this plastic ban might be a game-changing move that serves as an inspiration for promoting healthy habits and choices. This could also be a chance to encourage sustainable bamboo cultivation and ease the pressure on other trees used to make paper and other forest products.”
He added, “In fact, bamboo’s versatile nature can replace any wood product we typically use like paper and pulp products, flooring, musical instruments, furnishings, etc. Our experience of growing bamboo as a part of our plantation projects in different cities across the country as well as along riverbanks has also acquainted us with the multifarious benefits of this plant. Additionally, bamboo that is grown outside of forested areas is now regarded by the government as grass.
The demand for other trees that are frequently used for forest products and other commercial uses would be reduced by this quickly growing species. Bamboo offers an unending supply of timber because it is a sustainable and renewable resource. One bamboo shoot multiples rapidly which make it a low-maintenance plant. Harvesting mature shoots is also an integral part of bamboo cultivation as it influences the sustainable development of the plantation. Due to their quick growth, constant canopy, and extensive network of roots and rhizomes, bamboo forests not only provide a home for our rich flora and fauna but also function as extremely effective carbon sinks, preventing soil erosion, and repairing degraded land.”
A Positive Step forward
Dr. Binish Desai, Chairman of Recycling, Rotary International’s ESRAG (Environmental Sustainability Rotarian Action Group) in South Asia lauded the move and said, “The new plastic ban rules are a great step towards clean India. It was long time due for this change. It is a big opportunity for green local products to make their mark but ensuring they are purely sustainable and not pseudo or greenwashed. A temporary transition burden may arise as the system changes but it’s very miniscule compared to larger positive impact it will create. A proper and clear enforcement and implementation will be required for this ban to successfully overturn and convert into a circular system.”
Reactions from the Industry
Dabur India has started producing Real juice packs with integrated paper straws. As a result, fresh stocks will now be accompanied by paper straws, the company said. “We are committed to meeting the regulations and will ensure that all packs come with integrated paper straws,” said Shahrukh Khan, executive director of operations, Dabur India.
In accordance with India’s new regulations, beverage manufacturer Parle Agro, which owns brands including Frooti and Appy Fizz, has begun importing paper straws. Imports are still “staggered,” nonetheless. Paper straw production is restricted in India, which forces businesses to rely on imports to keep up with demand.
“Our shipments of paper straw are coming in a staggered manner due to huge demand. Nonetheless, we are working on a programme for a smooth transition from plastic straws to biodegradable straws and have no plans of closing any factories in the process. All factories will be operational,” said Schauna Chauhan, chief executive of Parle Agro. “As part of our transition to biodegradable straws, we will start with using paper straws and then move to PLA-based (bioplastic) straws. This will commence once all the machinery of our business partners for manufacturing PLA straws is commissioned, which will take a few months,” Chauhan said. Parle Agro has made representations to the government seeking an extension of the deadline.
Sanjiv Shah, Director, Walko Food Company Pvt Ltd. said, “When the Maharashtra Government issued its first notification about two years ago on single use plastic policy, we at NIC Honestly Natural Ice Cream had eliminated single-serve or less than 50 micron plastic. As a result, we do not have any packaging materials that will be prohibited on July 1, 2022. However, we are working with waste management company to recycle the packaging materials. That will result in extra costs for recycling but that is price worth incurring in the interest of larger community. We are always looking for ways to make the environment more sustainable.”