With the plastic ban being imposed across-the-board, including in some Indian states, it certainly becomes essential for individuals to re-evaluate plastic usage in their lives.
It is now a universally accepted fact that single-use plastic is antithetical to sustainable living and needs to be eliminated sooner or later. Single-use plastics, or disposable plastics, are used only once before they are thrown away (or, if we’re lucky, recycled). These include items like plastic bags, straws, coffee stirrers, soda and water bottles, and most food packaging.
Rigorous implementation of the plastic ban can be seen in Bangalore and some other metropolitan cities. In Bangalore, there is an on-the-spot fine of ₹500 if you carry a plastic bag—even if you are reusing your own plastic bag. Now, keeping cynicism aside, I admire these well thought out efforts of the city administration and I believe they’re going in the right direction. I also accept the fact that plastic has to be phased out in order to make sustainable living a reality. However, the way we are eliminating plastic with an outright ban requires thorough analysis and an overall deliberative debate on the issue.
First, a complete ban on the product which is of immense use to the public, without thinking of a sustainable and equally utilitarian alternative product, is a bad idea. Apparently, this is not the first time the plastic ban has been imposed in Bangalore. It was tried in 2016, when tiny paper bags replaced their larger plastic counterparts. Can we compare the utility of a plastic bag and a thin difficult-to-hold paper bag? I got dosa in such a paper bag and I couldn’t even reach home. I mean I reached, but the dosa couldn’t.
Second, I feel that most of the single-use plastic can not be eliminated, at least for now. Amul milk, curd, butter, chips, liquids, and packaged food come in plastic. It is easy to ask people to carry their own bags, bottles, and utensils, but it is hard to exteriorize this practice. There are few cases where plastic becomes indispensable, and a ban only makes life harder for people—for example the transfer and storage of medical material. Until we have a fool-proof solution, a complete ban is not going to help in any way.
In Bangalore, and some other Indian cities where the plastic ban has been imposed, thin translucent bags are being provided instead of plastic bags. Now, the fact is that even these bags were made of polypropylene and are non-biodegradable. The only difference is that they can be used multiple times. But then, plastic bags can also be used multiple times, at least to a certain extent. I don’t see a revolutionary change here. This alternative, I feel, is just plastic in disguise.
There is a difference between banning something in entirety and phasing it out gradually. The latter is the most convenient way, I believe, as it takes time for people to change a habit and adapt to a new practice. In the meantime, we can think of better options for recycling plastics with the help of science and technology.
Most of the plastic waste which is generated can be recycled and become raw material for producing containers and other items. India is emerging as one of the world leaders when it comes to plastic recycling. Over the years, several waste-to-wealth mechanisms have been adopted for the same. One such trend has been the conversion of plastic waste to fuel. Dehradun-based Indian Institute of Petroleum has developed a unique process of converting plastic waste like polyethylene and polypropylene to either gasoline or diesel.
The question is why are the authorities in a hurry to ban something? Administration can be more aware of the technological advancements happening around. Bangalore-based collective Stonesoup makes innovative eco-friendly products and solutions to ensure people live a sustainable life. There are other start-ups too but are the authorities even keeping track of these ideas?
It doesn’t make much sense to expect everything from people. Is it fair to expect the entire population of the country to stop using packaged water? When dealing with such problems, every aspect has to be analyzed in totality and every sector has to be involved in the process.
A deeply deliberative debate is required which involves every stakeholder, and the idea emerging out of this debate should guide the making of the structural framework.