India on Friday banned certain single-use or disposable plastic products as part of a federal plan to phase out the ubiquitous material in the country of nearly 1.4 billion people.
For the first stage, she identified 19 plastic objects that are not very useful but have a high potential to become waste and make it illegal to produce, import, store, distribute or sell them. These items range from plastic cups and straws to ice cream sticks. Some disposable plastic bags will also be phased out and replaced with thicker bags.
Thousands of other plastic products – like water or soda bottles or bags of crisps – are not covered by the ban. But the federal government has set targets for manufacturers to be responsible for recycling or disposing of them after use.
Plastic makers had called on the government to delay the ban, citing inflation and potential job losses. But India’s Federal Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav told a news briefing in New Delhi that the ban had been in place for a year.
“Now that time is up,” he said.
This is not the first time India has considered a plastic ban. But previous iterations have focused on specific regions, resulting in varying degrees of success. A nationwide ban that not only includes the use of plastic, but also its production or import has been a “definite boost”, said Satyarupa Shekhar, Asia-Pacific coordinator of advocacy group Break Free from Plastic.
Most plastics are not recycled globally and millions of tonnes pollute the world’s oceans, impact wildlife and end up in drinking water. Scientists are still trying to assess the risks posed by the tiny pieces of broken down plastic, called microplastics. In 2020, more than 4.1 million metric tons (4.5 million US tons) of plastic waste was generated in India, according to its federal pollution watchdog.
The creaking waste management system in the country’s burgeoning cities and towns means that much of this waste is not recycled and ends up polluting the environment. Nearly 13 million metric tons (14 million US tons) of plastic waste was discarded or not recycled by the South Asian nation in 2019 – the highest in the world, according to Our World in Data.
Plastic manufacturing releases earth-warming greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and India is home to factories that manufacture more than 243,000 metric tons (268,000 US tons) of disposable plastic every year. This means that reducing manufacturing and resulting plastic waste is crucial for India to meet its goal of reducing emissions intensity in economic activity by 45% in eight years.
A recent study identified more than 8,000 chemical additives used in plastic processing, some of which are a thousand times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Products like single-use packaging, plastic resins, plastic foam insulation, bottles and containers, among others, contribute to global greenhouse gas emissions.
Most plastics cannot be recycled, only decommissioned, and they are often incinerated or used as fuel in waste-to-energy plants, sometimes called chemical recycling. While plastics are worth three to four times as much for fuel as scrap metal, these recycling processes release more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, adding to the greenhouse effect.
“Given the scale of the plastics crisis, it’s too little. And it’s too little in both scope and coverage,” Shekhar said.
Ravi Agarwal, director of Toxics Link, a New Delhi-based advocacy group that focuses on waste management, added that the ban was “a good start”, but its success will depend on how well it is implemented. . Actual enforcement will be in the hands of individual states and city municipal bodies.
India said the prohibited items were identified keeping in mind the availability of alternatives: bamboo spoons, plantain trays, wooden popsicle sticks. But in the days leading up to the ban, many sellers said they were confused.
Moti Rahman, 40, is a vegetable vendor in New Delhi. Customers at his cart carefully selected fresh summer produce on Tuesday before pouring it into a plastic bag. Rahman said he agreed with the ban, but added that if plastic bags are discontinued without a readily available and equally cost-effective replacement, his business will be hurt.
“After all, plastic is used in everything,” he said.
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