India bans the use of single-use plastics, but experts say more measures must be taken

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On August 1, 2021, in Noida, India, a cyclist uses plastic sheeting to protect himself from the rain in District 27.

Sunil Ghosh | Hindustan Times | Getty Images

As part of its pollution reduction efforts, India will ban the use of most single-use plastics by next year-but experts say this is only the first step in reducing environmental impact.

Central Government of India After its 2019 resolution to solve the country’s plastic pollution problem, the company announced a ban in August this year. Most single-use plastic bans will take effect on July 1, 2022.

Environmental activists told CNBC that enforcement is the key to the ban’s entry into force. They said that New Delhi also needs to address important structural issues, such as regulating the use of plastic alternatives, improving recycling and better waste management policies.

Disposable plastic refers to single-use items such as shopping bags, food packaging, bottles and straws that are used only once before they are thrown away or sometimes recycled.

Swati Singh Sambyal, an independent waste management expert in New Delhi, told CNBC: “They must strengthen their field systems to ensure compliance and ensure that this notification is implemented across the industry and among various stakeholders.”

Why is plastic?

According to the United Nations, because plastics are cheap, lightweight and easy to produce, they have led to a production boom in the last century, and this trend is expected to continue in the coming decades.

But countries are now struggling to manage the amount of plastic waste they generate.

Anoop Srivastava, director of the Anti-Plastic Pollution Movement Foundation, said that about 60% of plastic waste in India is collected, which means that the remaining 40% or 10,376 tons are still not collected in India.

Independent scavengers usually collect plastic waste from homes or landfills, and then sell it at recycling centers or plastic manufacturers for a small fee.

However, Suneel Pandey, director of environmental and waste management at the Teri Energy and Resources Institute (Teri) in New Delhi, said that many plastics used in India have low economic value and are not collected for recycling.

He told CNBC that, in turn, they have become a common source of air and water pollution.

Banning plastic is not enough

Countries including India are taking measures to reduce the use of plastics by promoting the use of biodegradable alternatives that are relatively less harmful to the environment.

For example, food vendors, chain restaurants and some local businesses have begun to adopt biodegradable tableware and cloth or paper bags.

However, there are currently “no guidelines regarding plastic alternatives,” Sambyal said.

This may be a problem when the plastics ban takes effect.

A machine picks up rubbish in the garbage dump at the Ghazipur landfill, where the city’s daily rubbish has been dumped for the past 35 years. The machine divides the waste into three parts, the first part is stone and heavy concrete materials, the second part is plastic and polyethylene, and the third part is fertilizer and soil.

Pradeep Gower | SOPA Image | Light Rocket | Getty Images

Sambyal said clear rules are needed to promote alternative options, which are expected to become commonplace in the future.

The new rules also lack recycling guidelines.

Although about 60% of plastic waste in India is recycled, experts worry that too much of it is due to “degraded recycling.” This refers to the process of recycling high-quality plastics into lower-quality new plastics, such as turning plastic bottles into polyester fibers for clothing.

“Degraded recycling will shorten the life of plastics. In the normal process, plastics can be recycled seven to eight times before entering the incineration plant…,” said Pandi from Teri.

On June 24, 2018, in Maharashtra, India, people saw people carrying bags of other materials, mainly cotton cloth, used in daily life and shopping.

Rahul Lauter | Hindustan Times | Getty Images

Solving the problem of garbage classification is also very important.

Sambyal said that if general waste and biodegradable tableware are treated together, it would defeat the purpose of using plastic alternatives.

“It’s time to vigorously implement source separation of household waste,” said Srivastava of the Anti-Plastic Pollution Movement Foundation, referring to waste management laws that have been enacted but not strictly adhered to.

The way forward

Environmentalists generally believe that the ban is not enough by itself and needs to be supported by other initiatives and government regulations.

The amount of plastic collected and recycled needs to be increased. Pandey said this comes from overseeing manufacturers and requiring them to clearly mark the type of plastic used in their products so that they can be recycled appropriately.

On Monday, October 29, 2018, a woman scavenger collects plastic bottles and other plastic materials on a boat on the banks of the Brahmaputra River in Guwahati, Assam, India.

David Tarukdal | NurPhoto | Getty Images

In addition to improving recyclability, investment in research and development of alternatives should also be a priority.

Pandey explained that India is a large price-sensitive market where plastic substitutes can be mass-produced and sold at affordable prices.

In the past, several states in India imposed various restrictions on plastic bags and tableware, but most of them did not strictly enforce them.

Nonetheless, experts say that the latest ban is a big step for India in combating landfill, ocean and air pollution-and is in line with its broader environmental agenda.

In March of this year, India stated that it is on track to achieve the climate change targets of its Paris Agreement and added that it has voluntarily committed to reducing its GDP’s greenhouse gas emission intensity by 33% to 35% by 2030.

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