CHENNAI: here is a clear sense of urgency at the national and state-level to ban the ‘problamatic’ plastic. Earlier this week, when India hosted World Environment Day, the Union government pledged to ban all single-use plastics by 2022. On the same day the Tamil Nadu government announced a ban on manufacture, sales, storage and usage of disposable plastic across state with effect from January 1, 2019.
The Tamil Nadu ban was primarily on plastic carry bags, plastic plates, plastic cups, plastic flags, small plastic sachets used in packaging water.
It, however, excluded disposable plastic used for packaging milk, curd, oil and medical utilities. However, finer details of the ban have not been revealed yet.
Tamil Nadu is not the first state to impose such a ban on plastics. Eighteen states have tried and faltered. In fact, Tamil Nadu attempted such a ban in 2002 when J Jayalalithaa was Chief Minister, but it hardly materialised. Further, a ban on plastic carry bags is nothing new. It has been in effect in Tamil Nadu since 2015.
As per Plastic Waste Management (PWM) Rules, 2016, carry bag should not be provided free of cost by retailers to customers and the concerned municipal authority will be responsible for registration of shopkeepers/retailers, willing to provide plastic carry bags to the customers. Also, carry bags made of virgin or recycled plastic, shall not be less than 50 microns thick. However, a recent assessment done by the Central Pollution Control Boarrd (CPCB) revealed that most States and Union Territories (UTs) had not set up a proper monitoring system for use of carry bags as per the guidelines. It has been observed that in those States/UTs that have imposed a complete ban on use and sale of plastic carry bags, the bags are stocked, sold and used indiscriminately and TN is no exception.
So, can Tamil Nadu implement the ban successfully this time? Experts say its success will depend on how much effort goes into implementation, since existing rules on plastic waste management have not been implemented so far. Chennai-based environmentalist Dharmesh Shah, who was part of the central committee that framed PWM Rules, 2016, said the laws to regulate plastic use and recycling have been in place since 1999 — almost two decades. “There was a Recycled Plastics Manufacture and Usage Rules, 1999, to regulate the manufacture, sale, use and recycling of plastic bags.
These rules were replaced by the Plastic Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2011, which sought to regulate the use, collection, segregation, transportation and disposal of plastic waste and then came PWM Rules, 2016 in which, for the first time, extended producer responsibility was talked about. The rules were supposed to be implemented within six months of their notification. But, it’s been more than two years and Tamil Nadu has made no headway,” he said.
The Rules mandate the setting up of a State-level Monitoring Committee which should meet every six months. There is no committee. The State government should spell out how it plans to implement the ban. The rules are very sound and clear. “If rules are followed in toto, we should be able to achieve success,” Shah said.
G Sankaran, president, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry Plastic Association, said banning a section of plastics without putting enough of thought into it is not a good idea. “An idea is only as good as its execution. The real issue is with non-recyclable plastics like multi-laminated packaging. Though the Union government said it would phase out non-recyclable multi-laminated plastics by 2018 through its PWM Rules 2016, the decision was reversed in March this year through an amendment. The official estimates show packaging is the single largest application of plastics — in India, it accounts for 43 per cent of all plastics — and most packaging of consumer products is single-use,” he said.
In 2015, said Sankaran, the Union government had proposed non-recyclable plastics be collected and used in the process of building roads. “This, too, is something that met with limited success here. Targeting small manufacturers and recyclers, who contribute to keep environment clean, is not ideal.”
Taking recyclers on board is also key. G Vaidyalingam, who is a plastic recycler for the past 17 years in Kodungaiyur said that some of the present-day crisis is also due to the Centre’s illogical decision to impose 18 per cent GST on recycled plastic granules. The input from wholesale scrap dealers has dropped drastically. “We used to process about 20 tonnes of plastic waste into chips per month. Now it has fallen to 7 tonnes. The entire plastic recycling supply chain, including ragpickers, retail scrap collectors, wholesale collectors, processing units and product manufacturers, is in distress,” he said.
Kripa Ramachandran, researcher at Citizen consumer and civic Action Group (CAG), a Chennai-based organisation working on Zero Waste systems, said pan-India waste and brand audits were conducted in 250 sites across 15 cities in 18 states last month, including Chennai. “There is simply too much plastic in the environment -- 47.5 per cent were multilayer plastic packaging which can neither be recycled nor composted. A comprehensive extended producer responsibility policy should be enforced. Different policy instruments like take-back schemes, pay-as-you-throw or waste users’ fees, advance disposal fees, deposit refund schemes and recycling and composting incentives should be looked at,” she said.
There are some good examples within TN. The Nilgiris district was declared plastic-free in 2002 and although not 100 per cent successful, it has had some progress. In Jan 2017, Madurai Corporation declared the half kilometre radius around Meenakshi Amman temple as a plastic-free zone. Though a lot needs not be done, start has been made.