Lack of alternatives to single use plastics dampens efforts in Tamil Nadu

Top officials said that the State generated an average plastic waste output of 1,178 tonnes per day during 2020-21.
Image used for representational purpose only. (Express Illustrations)
Image used for representational purpose only. (Express Illustrations)

THOOTHUKUDI: Even as the Union and State governments have again enforced the ban on Single Use Plastic (SUP), the lack of alternatives seems to be dampening all efforts.

The Tamil Nadu government banned 14 types of one-time use and throw away plastic items on January 1, 2019, and reinforced the action under the 'People's Campaign Against Throw Away Plastics' on September 3, 2021.

The Union government too pitched in and effected a ban on the manufacture, import, stocking, distribution, sale and use of SUP, including polystyrene and expanded polystyrene commodities, on July 1, 2022.

Though the complete ban was enforced in the State over three years ago, at least nine of the 14 banned SUP items have returned to routine lives again. "In recent times, disposable plastic bags have made a big return to shops, and the pandemic exigencies hugely contributed towards it," said a senior official.

The plastic waste generation in Tamil Nadu was estimated at 4,31,472 tonnes in 2019-20, as per the annual report of the Municipal Administration and Water Supply Department.

The State generated an average plastic waste output of 1,178 tonnes per day during 2020-21, top officials said and attributed the increased output to the rapid rise in population, urbanisation, and industrial growth.

"Corporate companies have gained momentum in the retail sector and they provide even Rs 2 products in plastic packages nowadays without facing any punitive action, while the local body authorities confine themselves to raiding grocery shops for polythene bags," says Senthil Kumar, a plastic product supplier.

When contacted, Additional Chief Secretary of Environment Climate Change and Forests Supriya Sahu said the ban in Tamil Nadu was comprehensive and complete. The TNPCB had issued a closure notice and disconnection of power supply to 177 industries involved in the manufacture of banned plastic items.

Based on the information from the public about illegal plastic manufacturing units, 54 firms were also shut down by the TNPCB.

"From January 2019 to May 2022, regular raids were conducted throughout the State by the urban local bodies and 1,742 tonnes of SUP were seized. A total fine of Rs 11.42 crore was also imposed on the ban violators," said Sahu, who was instrumental in reviving the use of traditional 'manjapai' as part of the plastic elimination campaign.

Palm leaf handicraft expert Diana told The New Indian Express that the public view palmyra leaf products as a costly alternative to plastic bags. "Due to the raw material costs and labour charges, palm leaf products are costlier than plastic bags, which are available at a negligible price. However, the palm leaf products are eco-friendly and will benefit us in the long run," she said.

Concurring, Beauty, leader of the transgender group that operated an areca nut plate manufacturing unit under the guidance of Mahalir Thittam, said she had to suspend the firm's production owing to fewer orders from the public.

"Initially, we were churning out five types of areca nut dishes to the tune of Rs 9,000 per week. However, plastic dishes returned to the market and the demand for our products plummeted," she added.

Plastic Rules Defence Committee president Veerachamy has appealed to the State government to provide continuous attention and financial support to the units producing alternatives to plastic. Though three years have gone by since the SUPs were banned overnight, only a few products have stood the test of time as true alternatives, he said.

A senior official from District Industries Centre (DIC) said the alternative product manufacturing units being a thrust sector (industrial units that use agri and horticultural produce as major raw materials during production are dubbed thrust sector industries), there are schemes that provide 25 per cent subsidy of up to Rs 1.5 crore for entrepreneurs, but problems arise when it comes to the credit linkage.

"Bankers are not convinced when such projects are pitched to them, and do not sanction loans for MSME projects regarding the manufacture of alternatives to plastics," she said. Supriya Sahu said that the Tamil Nadu government has adopted a four-pronged strategy to fight plastic pollution and eliminate SUP.

"It would support people's movement against plastic, effectively monitor and report on the implementation of the plastic ban across the State, popularise sustainable eco-friendly alternatives, and work with industry, MSME and other stakeholders to create a road map for large-scale production of eco-friendly alternatives," she added.

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