Keeping the country on the brink of a blanket ban on single-use plastic (SUP) for over a month, the Indian government has suddenly announced a change of plans. On October 2, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during his speech in Ahmedabad, said that India would phase out SUP by 2022 instead. However, government officials are now saying that the blanket ban is “too disruptive” for the industry currently in the light of economic slowdown and rising unemployment.
Even though Modi had mentioned the concerns over SUP in his speech on Independence Day this year and even dropped a mention of this ban, urging other countries to follow suit, during his speech at the United Nations Climate Action Summit, on October 2, he has now stated that the blanket ban would not take place. He also added that the phasing out is important for the improvement of not just the environment, but also aquatic life in the light of reports that highlight the havoc caused by plastic in the sea world. “We have to build an andolan (movement) to induce behavioural change which was at the heart of Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy,” said PM Modi during his speech on October 2.
Government officials have told Reuters that while there would be no immediate ban on items such as plastic bags, cups, plates, bottles, straws and sachets, the government would try to curb their use instead. “There is no new ban order being issued,” Chandan Kishore Mishra, Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, told Reuters. “Now, it’s a question of telling people about the ill-effects of plastic, of collecting and sending for recycling so people don’t litter.” He further said the government will be directing the states to enforce existing laws against storage, manufacture and use of single-use plastic products.
Ever since PM Modi’s call to ban plastic on August 15, various industries have raised concerns and even objections. Earlier last month, companies in India have been reportedly seeking exemptions from the planned ban on certain plastic items with fears that it will disrupt supply chains and costs. The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), a lobby group, told Reuters that the move has “created an existential issue for multiple sectors.” CII also noted that plastic used for pharmaceutical or health products should be exempted since there are no alternatives.
“There was a conscious decision within the government not to hit businesses hard for now and discourage the use of plastic only on a voluntary basis,” an official working on the policy told Reuters anonymously. At the moment, India has been found to consume 16.5 million tonnes, which is 1.6 million trucks, of plastic annually. Of this, 43 percent is plastic manufactured for SUP materials. Additionally, 80 percent of the plastic finds its way into landfills, drains, rivers and the sea. By 2020, the plastic industry in the country is expected to grow to 22 million tonnes, half of which will be SUP. At the moment, it remains to be seen how policies and their implementation align with the terrifying reality of the environment and climate change in India.
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