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By- Wahiduz Jaman.

On 2nd October, 2019, 5 years after the launch of mega Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, Prime Minister Narendra Modi reiterates a commitment that India made a year ago – ban single- use plastic. Alike Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, this announcement of banning single-use plastic has gained remarkable media hype as the mission was announced by the Prime Minister himself and that too on the 150th birth anniversary of “father of the nation” - Mahatma Gandhi. On 2nd October, Prime Minister announced at Sabarmati river front that by 2022 India would successfully drain away single-use plastics.

Attaining a blanket ban on single-use plastics in India is merely impossible, keeping in mind the role single-use plastics play in our daily lives. From drinking water to buying groceries, from food packaging to containers, we’re dependent heavily on disposable plastics or what we call single-use plastics. This drift of plastic production and its growing demand started back in 1950s when plastic production, with growing industries, had outpaced that of any other material, with a global shift from the production of durable plastics to single-use plastics.

By tracing plastic consumption over the years, we can figure out the harnessing role plastics play in human lives. As per data, China remains the largest worldwide generator of plastic packaging waste, while USA is the largest generator of plastic packaging waste on a per capita basis, followed by Japan and EU. The total plastic waste generated in 2015 was estimated at 300 million tons. This indeed is a harrowing figure, and if we don’t act now, this menace will haunt not just us but the environment and the aquatic life at large, also with plastic industry accounting for 20% of the world’s oil consumption by 2050.

In his speech, the PM emphasized that phasing out of single-use plastics is necessary. Acknowledging the harm plastics bring to aquatic life, he urged the natives to build an andolan (movement) to induce behavioral change. Following his announcement, industries like chocolates, biscuits, chips and liquid food products had objected to the call, maintaining that in the absence of imminent alternative, their sales might drop sharply. Their objection to the call is acting as a hindrance, given their concerns that such ban would increase the price of most FMCG products as manufactures would shift to alternate packaging. While in the G-7 summit, France, Modi asserted that India was making greater strides in that direction but the direction in home seems diverted and preoccupied with concerns about dearth of immediate alternative to disposal plastics.

With different states following its own policies in approaching towards the goal, industries are fragmented and demand clarity on the ban from the government. They fear that outright ban would escalate costs, lead to job losses and disrupt supply chain.

The biggest problem with disposable plastics is that they are used once before disposal,and these plastics are used almost by all customer-facing industries including food processing and delivery, retailers for packaging, pharmaceuticals and agriculture. Disposable plastic is part of every industry. Taking into account the plastic management processes in developed countries, industry executives believe that government should bring in power waste segregation and management policies as they could solve the problem to a large extent.

As many as 18 states have banned plastic bags so far, and many such as Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh have imposed ban on single-use plastic products including cutlery, plates, cups and straws. Odisha government, as per the notification issued on September 29, 2018, banned the production, sale, trade, import, storage, use, transportation or distribution of single-use polythene carry bags, polythene terephthalate drinking bottles of less than 200ml capacity and cutleries among others. Besides Odisha, the government of Goa and Andhra Pradesh have also imposed ban on single-use plastics.

The Airport Authority of India has also undertaken a significant role in ensuring that its premises are free of single-use plastics. It declared recently that 55 out of 134 airports are no single-use plastics free The UGC (University Grant Commission) has also directed the universities to initiate a bid to make its premises free of disposable plastics.

We all must acquaint ourselves with the impairment plastics bring to our environment and aquatic life and act accordingly to minimize our growing dependence on single-use plastics. But until and unless the government comes up with a central definition and determines the products that fall under single-use plastics category, any andolan (movement) would adversely affect the ban. The prime minister defined them casually as plastics, without proper mentioning, which at times the line is misunderstood to mean only polythene bags. Keeping also in mind the industrial concerns following the ban of disposable plastics and the lagging economy which is certain to face another lag due to job losses and sharp drop in sales following the ban, the government should inclusively walk the talk focusing both on the idea of plastic free India and the reality of straggling economy.

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