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International Plastic Bag Free Day 2020: Role Model Sikkim

We seem to have forgotten the disastrous effect of plastic bags during the pandemic. They are everywhere on the frontlines, from food packaging to disposable gloves. International Plastic Bag Free Day 2020 today is another reminder that single-use plastic is bad… for the environment, the economy and the future.

International Plastic Bag Free Day 2020

Pralhad Joshi, Minister of Parliamentary Affairs in the Central Cabinet (with additional portfolios of Mines and Coal) today urged citizens to “use cloth and jute bags and spread the word about the harmful effects of plastic” on Twitter.

Meanwhile, PC Mohan, BJP member and Member of the Standing Committee on Urban Development, tweeted about eco-friendly alternatives to plastic bags.

Role model state Sikkim

Plastic bag bans are popular with the central and state governments, yet they have performed poorly. However, there is one state that is winning the war for a plastic-bag-free existence. We are talking about Sikkim. Rome wasn’t built in a day, nor did Sikkim free itself of the scourge of plastic waste in a year. The tiny Northeast Indian state has been fighting the good fight for more than two decades. It banned disposable plastic bags in 1998. Sikkim officially banned plastic bottles in government departments and state programmes in 2016. Out went selling and using disposable cutlery and containers and items made from polystyrene foam for everyone. It all started because of a small village that went by the name Yuksom.

The inspiring story of Yuksom village

Yuksom was the instigator in the anti-plastic movement within Sikkim. It stands adjacent to a protected region, Khangchendzonga National Park. The ecologically rich area was being heavily compromised with plastic pollution. The villagers were so fed up with the degradation of their beloved national park, they took matters into their own hands.
The villagers of Yuksom formed the Khangchendzonga Conservation Committee (KCC). The KCC began collecting plastic waste from the forest. The committee enforced strict rules for travel and tour operators concerning non-bio-degradable waste products. Yuksom became the first village in India to ban plastic bags and bottles back in 1996. In another two years, the Sikkim government followed suit with a state-wide ban through legislation passed on June 4, 1998. Offenders were fined up to INR 20,000.
Nonprofit organisation Ecoexists has been attacking single-use plastic bags for a decade there. Another nonprofit, ECOSS is working with WWF and the government’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan on the Zero Waste Himalaya project. For the uninitiated, the Himalayan region is cluttered with garbage thanks to campers.
The people of Sikkim themselves are deeply in touch with nature. Sikkim is the first Indian state to become 100% organic. All the food produced there is pesticide-free. Noise and air pollution are taken seriously there. The state banned firecrackers in 2014. Sikkim is also the first state in our nation to ban ODC (open defecation). Toilets at home are mandatory if the residents want to apply for any government schemes or stand for village-level elections. This strategy has ensured the success of Clean India must before Swachh Bharat was conceptualised by the Modi government.
NGOs Toxics Link and eCoexist conducted studies to understand the effectiveness of Sikkim’s green policies in 2014 and then in 2018. Although some amount of plastic bags are still sold there, Sikkim fares well in its anti-plastic stance. 66% of shop owners use paper bags or newspapers for packaging.

What Sikkim can teach India

The green policies of Sikkim could be replicated on scale. State governments could break the enforcement of the plastic ban into smaller constituencies. People’s collectives need to come forward to point out violators. Tourists could be checked for plastic bags at customs. Corporate offices and gated communities could use advanced security systems to pinpoint offenders. It sounds harsh but it can be done for a #plasticfreeIndia. International Plastic Bag Free Day is a good place to start.