India's single-use plastic ban to start in July but eradication still likely to be a long way off

NEW DELHI – India, the world’s third-largest producer of single-use plastic waste, is taking a key step to tackle this menace that accounts for a majority of plastic thrown around the world, filling up landfills and polluting the environment.

From July 1, the country will prohibit the sale and use of a range of around 20 common single-use plastic items such as ear buds with plastic sticks, ice-cream sticks, straws, disposable cutlery and packaging film for cigarette packets, among others.

Single-use plastic items such as these are considered of “low-value” and are rarely recycled.

A draft of the ban was first released in March last year by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, with the final version released in August. It had been due to commence in January this year, but was delayed following opposition from the plastics industry as well as commercial users, including multinational firms.

Experts still say they do not expect the banned items to disappear entirely when the prohibitive order kicks in July, with enforcement and the availability of affordable alternatives to these items being key issues that will need further sustained attention to meet this goal.

“Even after July 1 it is going to be a work in progress,” said Mr Siddharth Ghanshyam Singh, programme manager for municipal solid waste at the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment, a public interest research and advocacy organisation.

The plastic manufacturing industry in India is mostly informal, with multiple players often involved in making one final product and no accurate estimate of their numbers, making the ban’s enforcement a difficult task.

“It is a very, very complex ecosystem that we are talking about,” Mr Singh told The Straits Times.

An earlier countrywide target of phasing out plastic bags less than 75 microns in thickness by the end of September 2021 has proved unsuccessful, with such products still available in the market because of poor regulation and lack of affordable alternatives.

Solid waste management is handled at the state level, and the success of this fresh ban depends on how effectively state-level authorities enforce it. Many states have attempted to ban disposable plastic bags and cutlery before but have failed to eradicate them.

Mr Singh noted that this time around the Central Pollution Control Board has put greater weight behind the order and, for the first time, reached out to all concerned, including state-level authorities and e-commerce portals, to make them aware of the upcoming ban.

“It is a good strategy to reach out to everyone and give them a directive that we have put the ban formally in place and that now it is your responsibility as a stakeholder to play your part,” he said.

Inspections as well as surprise checks, he added, will play a key role in enforcing the order.


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