This is the third piece of a collection of articles written for Bare Necessities- Zero Waste India dedicated to discussing plastic bans in India, all relating to the plastic announcement on October 2nd 2019. The collection aims to discuss the enforcement of policies, design and innovation of new ideas and important steps that have already taken place that will assist in transitioning the country toward a new, more sustainable system along with other areas that will be expanded upon on a weekly basis.
One of the potential issues with banning plastics throughout India on one specific day is that a huge number of industries rely on plastic in their production and from the evidence available they have not been provided with a ready-made alternative to transfer to.
There is an urgent need to look at the overall system to work out key steps and a roadmap toward a more sustainable future.
Without a systems approach to addressing this issue, it is difficult to see how a method of consumption and production that is so intrinsically ingrained in modern-day life can change to one that does not produce in excess of $1.3 billion economic impacts (according to the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation, an estimate of the impact on marine plastics to tourism, fishing and shipping industries in the region) annually (source).
One of India’s Plastic Waste Management Rules criteria is to have “industries that make products that ultimately employ plastic (and generate plastic waste) collect a fixed percentage every year” (source) however as many other areas of this complex environment has shown it is the enforcement of policies that will be a key difficulty moving forward. There are examples in Mumbai for example where the ‘blue squad’ enforce the states current plastic bans by imposing fines (source), yet how would this work on a broader scale? Would it function on every level or will there be ways that individuals and businesses work around the issue because they are more concerned about their economic benefit the next day rather than longer-term environmental sustainability?
Significant positive steps can be made by an ecosystem approach where behaviour economics, policy, manufacturers, industries, citizens and all other stakeholders work together toward a common goal. Yet, without education, continual monitoring of the situation to maintain the transition away from damaging plastics and cost-sensitive new innovations it is doubtful if a single policy on a certain day will be effective.
To assist in ensuring that an announcement such as that made on the 2nd of October by the national government is made effective one of the easiest and most effective ways of moving the whole of India on a new course is by encouraging people to change their behaviour on an individual level.
The 5 R approach is a valuable way to describe this concept to the broader public, Refuse what you do not need, Reduce what you do not need, Reuse what you can’t reduce, Recycle what you can’t reuse, Recover what you can’t recycle (source). Another way to put it that makes a huge difference at an individual level, which in turn will change the way products are packaged, manufactured and distributed on a broader scale (due to consumer demand), is to look at reducing plastic in the following criteria: firstly, stop using plastics completely. Secondly, segregate waste, which in turn assists third criteria, composting organic waste. While lastly, promoting reuse with all household items (source). This is a hardline approach that will make an immediate impact due to an individual’s choices. Other potential roadmaps to address this situation on a countrywide scale can be found by looking and learning from other countries.
Undoubtedly adjustments would need to be made for the context in India, yet by learning from methods that have been effective to date a knowledgeable and effective approach can be made to address this systemic issue.
France as the first example has had a plastic ban since 2016, within the law, there are clauses that specify that “the replacements of these items will need to be made from biologically sourced materials that can be composted” (source). To assist with a ban since 2008 Rwanda’s plastic bag ban is “not effective just because of strict enforcement but also because of hefty penalties. According to the law, the offenders smuggling plastic bags can face jail time” (source). While returning focus to Europe, Sweden has implemented one of the world’s best recycling systems that is so effective that “less than one per cent of Sweden’s household waste goes into landfill dump” (source), similarly, in Ireland a dramatic decrease of plastic was seen due to a plastic bag tax in 2002, which saw “within weeks of its implementation… a reduction of 94 per cent in plastic bag use” (source). On a larger scale that parallels India’s population “China made it illegal for stores (small or big vendors) to give out plastic bags (in 2008) and allowed them to keep any profit, they made for themselves. End result, after two years of the law implementation, usage of plastic bags dropped by a whopping 50%” (source).
Whether there are sweeping changes planned by the government or whether they simply plan to encourage every individual to be an active citizen there are numerous methods that can see India reduce its reliance on plastics as a nation.
Policies and announcements are a good start, understanding what has been successful in other locations can provide a blueprint, ongoing monitoring and evaluating of the situation is vital but most of all there must be recognition of the fact that a solution cannot be achieved to this situation without understanding all stakeholders within the entire system.
The roadmap to wean humanity away from plastics is still in development but there are positive signs that will continue to encourage larger reforms in industries and businesses because of the simple acts that individuals can choose to do on a day to day basis.