Plastic is back in the news with the Delhi government having announced a blanket ban on its use. Enforcement of the ban here though might turn out to be a big challenge given the established dependence on plastic in urban India. Use of plastic in urban India manifests itself in many ways leading to the item being a key expenditure in the non-food category. This is highlighted by the latest National Sample Survey (NSS) data which showed that 84 per 1000 households used plastic in urban India.
In comparison the usage of other durable items like earthenware and glassware stood at 32 and 14 per 1000 households respectively. Plastic usage scores also over electric fan usage at 58 per 1000 household and a mere 20 per 1000 in case of new clothing. Plastic is a common use item in its genre even in rural India with 76 per 1000 using it.
Further, if past experience is any indication enforcing a total plastic ban might turn out be a difficult proposition. The Delhi government launched an ambitious programme and put a three-year-old ban on the usage of plastic bag. But, after failing to implement the ban, the Delhi government put blanket restrictions on the use of plastic bags in the capital on September 11. The latest ban has been imposed as per provision of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 under which the violators could face imprisonment up to five years and fine of up to Rs 1 lakh or both.
An analysis by Zee Research Group shows that not just Delhi but many other states like Maharashtra, Punjab, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Goa and West Bengal too have imposed similar bans. Globally, nations as diverse as developed to developing including from the African continent – United Kingdom, South Africa, Malaysia, People’s Republic of China, Kenya – have taken measures to discourage the use of plastic bags.
Highlighting the bigger role the government must play in creating awareness against plastics, Imran Khan, assistant manager (Voice for Waste Programme) at Chintan NGO stressed, “Just putting up a ban from government’s side won’t help as majority of people who use it are still not aware about its ill effects as the awareness part is still underperformed. People should be informed about hazardous effects of plastics.”
Yet a bigger challenge is to strike at the usage of plastic bags in Indian families. “Plastic is a non-biodegradable substance and there are numerous health hazard associated with it. Many people store food items inside plastic bags which produce toxic chemicals and stale the food. People also burn plastic bags along with the garbage to destroy it but the smoke produced pollutes the environment deeply,” says Brij Kishore, manager (Knowledge Power Program) at Chintan NGO.
Initiating an eco-friendly step through its new Plastic Waste (Management and Handling) Rules 2011, the Ministry of Environment and Forests notified that plastic carry bags should have a minimum thickness of 40 microns and sachets using plastic material cannot be used for storing, packing or selling gutkha, tobacco and pan masala.
Shedding light on the health hazards of using plastics, Dr Ajay Agarwal, head of the department (Internal Medicine) at Fortis Hospital, Noida says, “Studies show that Bisphenol A, commonly known as BPA, is used in manufacturing polycarbonate plastic and this leads to endocrinal problems in women. I would suggest that the use of plastic should be watched carefully.”