A shopper gives a bag she carried from home to a fruit-seller to put her purchases in as the city civic authorities try to enforce a ban on single-use plastic bags in Mumbai on June 26. Starbucks and McDonald’s are among dozens of companies fined for violating a new ban on single-use plastics in India’s commercial capital Mumbai, an official said June 26. The new rules, in force since June 23, prohibit the use of disposable plastic items such as bags, cutlery, cups and bottles under a certain size. (Indranil Mukherjee/AFP/Getty Images)

In line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s promise of making India free from the single use of plastic by 2022, on June 23 the western province of Maharashtra-banned the manufacture, sale, distribution, storage and use of plastic products such as one-time-use bags, spoons, plates, PET and PETE bottles and styrofoam items, writes Priyanka Bhardwaj.

Anyone defying this ban will have to face penalties from Rs.5,000 for first time offenders, to Rs.10,000 for second time offenders, and Rs.25,000 and three months in jail for third time offenders.

In March the notification for the same had been announced by the state government so that manufacturers, distributors and consumers could find viable alternatives to plastic but even now everyone seems to be ill prepared.

Reasons for this ban is evident to anyone who has ever resided or visited India, as the entire urban and rural landscape, water-bodies and ocean is in inches of plastic-litter to the extent that flooding of cities after every rains has become a recurrent mess and a potential danger to lives and property.

Compliance to the ban is being enforced by anti-plastic squads busy cracking down on several branches of popular eateries such as Burger King, Godrej’s Nature Basket, McDonald’s and Starbucks that have been caught flouting the ban.

Though it is widely known that polythene of 50 microns and above is allowed, in most cases of non-compliance it is due absence of clarity on exact items that are banned says Jithesh Shetty, owner of Satkaar Family Restaurant & Bar in Mumbai.

Albeit a welcome move, severe lack of options has driven those subsisting on small time trading, such as preparing tea, snacks and food and selling in their quick, makeshift stalls or joints to a likelihood of a complete loss of livelihood.

The Plastic Bags Manufacturers Association of India fears that about three hundred thousand people may be rendered unemployed by this ban.

If roadside tea sellers are being forced to sell tea in old milk packets as per Shetty, dearth of delivery options has pushed web-based applications such as Zomato & Swiggy to the brink.

There have been some restaurants that have come up with ingenuous ways, say by use of steel lunch boxes against a deposit or immediate return, but these methods have not been widespread.

Since plastic is a ubiquitous carrying material the ban which is a much welcome environment friendly proposal has caused inconvenience to the people especially with torrential rains pounding the city and drenching the cloth or jute bags that people had got out to carry their essential items.

There has also been a decline in “unplanned buying” of food, grocery shopping that the plastic bags had given rise to.

Businesses that heavily depend on plastics for packaging, the retailers, beverage companies, bottled water manufacturers, and online shopping sites such as Amazon Inc, Pepsi, Coca Cola and H&M have been hit badly and are said to be lobbying with the government for relaxation of norms of the ban.

The Plastic Bags Manufacturers Association of India has petitioned for a minimum of seven years for any alternative to be put into place and cautioned that use of biodegradable plastic or another alternative will most likely push up costs of packaging from the current 2 to 3.5 per cent.

Lending support to their demand are also the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, and the Internet and Mobile Association of India.

As of now, acting on protests in Pune and some other places against the ban, Maharashtra’s Environment Minister has issued relaxation of rules for neighborhood grocery stores allowing them to pack commodities such as rice and pulses in plastic, and study of moderation of rules for online retailers.

Exemptions also include, plastic used for medicine packaging, food grade plastic, plastic used for the handling of solid waste, and that find use in manufacturing and exporting, along with compostable bags for agriculture.

Later exemptions also included styrofoam for decoration and fish storage.

This however has not been appreciated by the diehard activists who feel that a 100 percent ban is the only way ahead for preserving the environment from the plastics and microplastics that enter living systems.

Here it must be important to note that a recent United Nations study that found plastic packaging to make for approximately half of all single use plastic waste worldwide.

In early June the UN issued a warning that even if the current levels of use of plastic were maintained, by2050, the world could be flooded with 12 billion tons of plastic trash.

It is no more an unknown fact that the world has produced 6.3 billion tons of plastic since 1950, most of which will take at least 450 years to degrade.

Out of this amount half of the world’s plastic was generated in the last 13 years and about half of that are plastic products used once and thrown away, such as bags, cups or straws.

According to a 2015 study, India’s contribution may be less than half of the global average, but still amongst the highest in the world.

Astonishingly, most of the states in India have a full or partial ban on single-use plastics that is rarely enforced except in Himachal Pradesh and Sikkim that have shown tremendous results worthy of emulation.

Matching the timing of this ban on plastic is the setting up of the Jute Foundation by retired bureaucrat Siddharth Singh on the World Environment Day, June 5.

Singh emphasizes the use of jute bags as a viable green reusable alternative to plastic and to balance the ecology.

The foundation aims to provide not just strategic interventions to the jute industry of the country that produces close to 70 percent of total raw jute worldwide, integration of this industry but also spread awareness on a global level for global utilization of jute.

Jute stands much higher in comparison to the single-use paper bags that have a higher carbon footprint and are more resource and water intensive to produce, or corn starch-based plastic alternatives that need land to be diverted away from growing food to growing large quantities of corn for producing single-use items.

It is said that the harbinger of change in this regard will be better habits, more than better alternatives.

The mentality to reduce and reuse are the need of the hour and the onus of eliminating the use of single use plastics now lies with consumers.