India’s ban on select single-use plastic items: A start but still a long way from blanket ban

News: India’s ban on select single-use plastic(SUPs) items comes into effect from July 1, 2022.

Does India impose a blanket ban on all single-use plastic items?

No, the Indian market will continue to sell a gamut of single-use plastic items like soft drinks and mineral water bottles, all products sold in multi-layered packaging, among others.

The Indian government has tried to identify a handful of problematic plastics, which are low-utility and have high littering potential, from the bucket of single-use plastic commodity list and give the industry a reasonable time to phase them out.

Must read: Ban on Single-Use Plastic – Explained, pointwise
What are the challenges associated with the present ban?

Issue of providing alternative opportunities: Millions of workers are involved in producing SUPs in thousands of factories. In the past, no attempts were made to rehabilitate them. Similarly, no plan has been put in place to support the industry, especially the MSME sector.

Unprepared for the ban: Consumers are not ready to sacrifice convenience. Most market surveys show that SUPs are widely sold, and alternatives are expensive or unavailable.

Seeking extension: All India Plastic Manufacturers Association (AIPMA) is seeking an extension of 6-12 months on the ban, citing issues like unavailability of alternatives, economic infeasibility and demand-supply gap, which will increase the cost of their product packaging.

Note: An extension of six months was already granted to the industry, to transition away from single-use plastic items listed for phase-out.

Read more: Explained: Why is single-use plastic being banned in India from July 1
What is the status of the plastic alternatives market in India?

The alternatives market in India is at a nascent stage, which forces companies to import and thus, increases costs. This is primarily due to the scale at which the alternative market currently operates.

The shift is not easy. Currently, SUPs account for about one-third of the plastic consumed in the country. In other words, 6-7 million tonnes of SUPs are consumed annually, placing it among the top industrial materials consumed in terms of volume.

The market, therefore, requires alternatives to replace 6-7 million tonnes of materials. Unfortunately, SUP substitutes in such volumes are unavailable, mainly because the government has failed to promote the alternative industry.

Read more: Single-use plastic ban: Reading the fine print reveals ominous loopholes
Do alternatives to plastics viable?

Most life cycle analysis (LCA) of SUPs and their substitutes shows that the most significant environmental problems are due to the single-use nature of the products, not the material.

For example, LCA shows that a paper shopping bag must be used four to eight times to have a lower environmental impact than one single-use plastic bag.

What should be done?

The alternative market needs to be offered support through government initiatives to make its reach wider. However, it should be done with caution, so as not to create a fresh set of problems while fighting plastic pollution.

The plastic industry, manufacturers and FMCG companies should consider coming up with design changes in their product packaging to eliminate the necessity of ancillary plastics like straws.

The national and state governments have to ensure proper enforcement of the notified ban.

Overall, replacing SUPs with biodegradable SUPs will not eliminate the problem of microplastics that are now poisoning our food chain and are even being found in the human bloodstream. Therefore, the solution to SUPs is to create an industry that turns ‘single-use’ products into ‘multi-use’ and creates a circular economy.

Source: The post is based on the following articles “India’s ban on select single-use plastic items: A start but still a long way from blanket ban” published in “DTE” on 1st July 2022.

“Why The Plastic Ban Is Trapped In Polythene Bags” published in “The Times of India” on 1st July 2022.

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