The Benefits of Talking About Plastic Bans
This is the first 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.
Single use plastics are widely used throughout the world and are an extremely large environmental issue within India due to poor infrastructure in the recycling industry (source). Single use items include plastic bags, food packaging, bottles, straws, sachets, containers, cups and cutlery. On October 2nd, 2019 the Indian Government is set to announce a phase out of single use plastics. It has been described as both a ban by media commentators, and, also not as a ban more recently by the Environment Minister who stressed that the Prime Minister phrased his plan as a ‘goodbye’ to plastics not as a total ban (source). Perhaps though whether it is a ban or simply the discussion of such does not matter as much as the fact that it can be used to start a movement away from a reliance on plastic.
In terms of the amount of and reliance on plastics as a nation, PlastIndia Foundation has found that India consumes “an estimated 16.5 million tonnes, about 1.6 million trucks full of plastic annually” (source), with approximately “80 per cent of the total plastic produced in India discarded immediately and will find its way to landfills, drains, rivers and flow into the sea” (source). Notably the “country is able to recycle only about 4 million tonnes of its plastic waste” (source). Another significant point to note is that “Chairman of the Environment Committee of the All India Plastic Manufacturers Association, says India's plastic industry recorded an annual revenue worth Rs 3.5-lakh crore in FY19. This was spread across 50,000 processing units, the bulk of these being small and medium enterprises. It is one of the fastest-growing industries in India as it sees its fortunes linked to the growth of every other industry” (source).
Therein lies some of the issue and some of the reason behind phrasing the October 2nd announcement as both a ban and not a ban. Industry as a whole often cite how many jobs would be lost and how much machinery would cease to be valuable if a ban such as this occurred (source), which can leave individuals in ministerial positions phrasing ideas in certain ways. Yet, the benefit of suggesting that a ban may occur far out way whether a ban will actually occur officially on the 2nd or not. Looking at a couple of recent examples that have taken place, in part, due to this announcement, “corporate entities across the sectors, be it airports, airlines, hotels or startups, have chalked out plans to cut down on their use of plastic” (source). The large airline, Air India for instance “has prepared an action plan to stop single- use plastic onboard its flight… ‘Plastic tea cups will be replaced with sturdy paper cups. Banana chips and sandwiches are presently packed in a plastic pouch, which will be changed to butter paper pouches,’” (source).
So, even though the broader community of industry observers and experts are still unsure of how the situation will be approached there are already improvements that can be seen due to large corporate entities such as Air India. This illustrates that there are tangible differences that can be made by large and small businesses and individuals even if there are other actors who are yet to come on board. Optimistically, the more stakeholders that are committing to more stringent environmental measures, the more likely it is that the stakeholders who are against such sweeping policies currently will change their position in the near future.
For long term environmental sustainability the world needs to move away from the use of this inorganic material. There are challenges ahead no doubt, hopefully though the October 2nd announcement will be a catalyst for larger societal change and innovation, no matter whether it is a blanket ban or simply the next step away from the use of single use plastics, that will help to address and solve these challenges that lay ahead.