In Part I of the series, the viewpoint of plastic manufacturing industry was captured. Part II of the series explored what could be done with plastic. Part III explored the green job options that will get created because of plastic ban. Here is part IV.
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Every time a city inundates in deluge, the primary reason seems to be the drains getting choked with plastic. Low weight plastic carry bags that are of low recycling value end up on roadsides or garbage dumps, causing water logs during unexpected rains. The health impacts of plastic are numerous. All this together prompted the government to issue a draft notification on plastic ban.
But can plastic be banned effectively? There are many cities in India that have banned plastic to some extent. We studied Chikmagalur and Mangaluru examples to see the effectiveness of plastic ban, and the practical hurdles in the implementation.
While the ban continues in Chikmagalur despite lack of clarity over its effectiveness, the same is not the case with Mangaluru where the implementation went astray within a year. Perhaps, these two examples give insights into the things to be considered while implementing the ban, and the challenges ahead.
Plastic ban in Baba Budan Giri
In 2010, Chikmagaluru district administration banned the use of plastic carry bags. On a pilot basis, the district administration and local city municipal council first implemented the ban in Baba Budan Giri, a well-known pilgrimage centre. A check post was installed at the entrance of the hill, where the municipal workers collected all types of plastic carry bags from pilgrims and replaced it with cloth and other alternative bags.
As a first step, no penalty was imposed on those using plastic carry bags, but an attempt was made to create awareness by collecting plastic bags from people and replacing it with other bio-degradable bags.
In 2011, the district administration went a step further by imposing a strict ban on the use, sale and storage of plastic carry bags, cups, plates and sheets. Though the ban was applicable throughout Chikamagalur district, it was implemented only in the city limits due to lack of monitoring mechanism in small towns of the district.
Nagabhushan, who was the Chikmagaluru City Municipal Council Commissioner till recently, said that plastic ban has been satisfactorily implemented in Chikmagaluru. “We used to conduct raids on shops selling banned plastic products once or twice a week. Penalty on those who violate the rule ranges from Rs 2,000 to Rs 5,000,” he says.
A journalist based in Chikmagaluru (who wanted to remain anonymous) told this reporter that though plastic ban has not been implemented cent per cent in Chikmagalur city, the usage has reduced to a great extent. “There is definitely an awareness among people to avoid the use of plastic. Plastic carry bags are not thrown here and there and are not dumped by the roadside. People largely depend on cloth bags as an alternative to plastic,” he observed.
A Bengalurean, Deepthi Suresh who had recently visited Chikmagaluru came back with a positive note about the town. “The best thing about Chikmagaluru city is that nowhere can you find plastic carry bags thrown here and other,” she observed.
Rekha Chari, a resident of Malleshwaram, was returning from a holiday trip via Chikmagalur. She decided to buy spices from the city, and went to M G Road there. “As we went from shop to shop, I pleasantly noticed that none of the shopkeepers were offering plastic covers for the smallest of purchases. I got talking to them. They spoke to me about the plastic ban in the town, which had been unanimously accepted by all merchant establishments,” she says.
“When a small town can set an example, why are we Bengalureans struggling so much?” Rekha wonders, adding that though the city is bigger, each area can act as a small unit and the ban can be a success if everyone in the unit strives hard to make it a success.
Plastic manufacturing lobby wins in Mangaluru
The plastic ban in Chikmagalur was initiated during the tenure of IAS officer N S Channappa Gowda who was then deputy commissioner of Chikmagaluru district. The same officer was transferred to Dakshina Kannada district later, where he introduced plastic ban in 2012.
Unlike in Chikmagaluru, the plastic ban in Mangaluru met with strong resistance from plastic manufacturers. Chikmagaluru does not have any plastic industry, whereas Mangaluru has highest number of plastic manufacturers next to Bengaluru. Facing the threat of adverse effect on their business, plastic manufacturers led by Canara Plastics Manufacturers and Traders’ Association approached the High Court and succeeded in bringing a stay.
In an order, the High Court Judge observed that the district administration can only prevent manufacturers from selling plastic products less than 40 microns. This order was based on the Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2011, that mandated plastic carry bags above 40 microns. The order also mandated strict measurement of the thickness of plastic, by the administration before imposing fine on any trader.
Finally the petition was disposed of by the High Court of Karnataka. As manufacturing plastic carry bags above 40 microns is perfectly legal, there is no clarity over whether the blanket ‘ban’ on plastic bags of all categories will be legally justified and can stand in the court of law.
Analysing the challenges in implementing the ban on plastic use, Channappa Gowda, who is now Secretary in the Department of Fisheries and Animal Husbandry, said that enforcing the ban in a small city like Chikmagaluru was easier compared to Mangaluru. “It is going to be much difficult to implement the ban in Bengaluru as it demands strict monitoring. The two factors that should be considered while implementing the ban are, creating awareness and strict enforcement. If not complete ban, at least we succeeded in reducing the public consumption of plastic in day to day lives. The same could be done in other cities as well,” he told Citizen Matters.
Speaking about addressing plastic issue in coordination with plastic manufacturers, he said: “When we decided to ban plastic in Mangaluru, the manufacturers came forward with a proposal to collect plastic waste from the city, but they never turned up even after repeated requests.”
Even in Bengaluru, a few months ago plastic manufacturers assured the BBMP of co-operating in imposing the ban on plastic below 40 microns and collecting the plastic back in fixed centres. They demanded that the BBMP provide the required facilities to do it. Thereafter nothing has moved forward.
How did the eight-month plastic ban in Mangaluru go?
Though the plastic ban was implemented in Mangaluru for a short span of less than a year (till the HC’s interim order), the ban was implemented successfully, believe the officers who were involved in it. Manjunath Shetty, who was the environment engineer of the Mangaluru City Corporation during the ban period, said that the administration had teamed up with homeguards, health and environment engineers to carry the raids on shops selling banned plastic items.
“For eight months, the teams went on inspection twice a day. The first-time offenders were warned, second time they were penalised and third time we published their names in newspapers. It was embarrassing for the shop keepers to see their names appear in papers. While small shop keepers were happy not to store plastic bags as customers used to bring biodegradable bags with them, big shops started charging high price for paper bags. This is how people started avoiding the use of plastic,” he said.
Recalling how people were open to the idea of plastic ban, he said there was a positive vibe among public towards the initiative. “Generally people are in support of plastic ban as long as we give them an alternative. The only resistance came from public is for banning the plastic that is used to carry fish. That issue too was solved by introducing water proof cloth bags,” the officer explained.
He also explained how the quantity of plastic in landfills dropped owing to plastic ban. “The ban reflected how the landfill issue too could be solved with the reduction in plastic use. Though for a short time we were able to succeed in banning plastic use, we had to succumb to the plastic lobby. The success of enforcement of the ban also depended on officials who were in-charge of the city administration. I don’t think it is impossible to legally fight in favour of plastic ban, if the public sentiment on plastic ban is conveyed to the court effectively,” he noted.
A study of plastic ban in Delhi, Chandigarh and Sikkim
A Toxics Link study assessing the impact of complete ban on plastic carry bag in 2014, reveals how the states and union territories have failed to effectively implement the ban on plastic bags. The study cites the reasons for ineffective ban, ranging from slack enforcement by the administration to lack of cost-effective alternatives. Toxics Link made a case study of three states, namely: Delhi, Chandigarh and Sikkim.
In all the three states, the survey found that despite a blanket ban on use of plastic carry bags, they were being used widely by both vendors and consumers. However, compared to Delhi and Chandigarh, the ban has been implemented quite effectively in the capital city of Sikkim.
“Even while comparing 100 pieces of 9 x 12 plastic bags with 6 x 12 paper bags, plastic bags would cost Rs 20 cheaper than the paper ones. Until this price gap is minimised, alternatives may not be a very viable option for vendors, especially the smaller ones,” the report observed.
Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand too have restricted the use of plastic, however the effectiveness is not known, as most of the plastic comes from the tourists who find it convenient to carry the essential stuff.
Some of the observations made in Toxics Link report are:
- The ban was effective only in the early days of notification. But as the monitoring reduced, the usage went up again. Fines or penalties were not being imposed, resulting in weak implementation of the ban.
- Alternatives like paper were being used, but their durability was an issue.
- Jute and cloth bags were popular only in brand shops as their costs are high.
- The plastic bags were routinely disposed of along with other municipal waste, finally ending up in dumpsites, roads, drains and landfills.
- Though the production of plastic bags has come down or stopped in these regions, the bags are coming from neighbouring states.
Plastic ban in other countries
A Business Standard report says that Ireland levied a tax on the use of plastic bags in 2002, causing an over 90 per cent reduction in the use of plastic carry bags. China imposed a fee in 2008 on plastic bags, thereby restricting free distribution, which reportedly led to a curb in demand by two-thirds.
Several other countries such as Australia, Bangladesh, South Africa, Thailand and some states in the US, have taken similar measures with varying degrees of success.
A study conducted by research scholars at Delhi School of Economics, throws light on how the countries like Denmark and Ireland brought down the plastic production and consumption by introducing levy on consumers and tax on producers. Denmark was the first country to introduce mandatory levies on plastic bag manufacturers in 1994. The policy was perceived as largely successful since it reduced plastic bag use by 66 per cent.
The study makes some observations on policy implications:
- Enforce with credible information about penalties both for shop owners and consumers.
- Blanket ban may not be the best solution under weak institutional enforcement.
- A combination of standards and right incentives can bring down the use of plastic bags.
- Impart information highlighting environmental impacts of plastic products usage which can significantly influence consumer behaviour.
- Subsidies in cash or kind (in the form of reusable bags) and explicit pricing could lead to lower bag use.
With all these plastic ban cases before us, perhaps time is ripe for the government to take cue from the success and failure stories, while implementing the much debated proposal.