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India starts small with ban on some single-use plastics

Workers of a helmet store paste degradable plastic substitute material on a glass in Hyderabad (Mahesh Kumar A/AP)
Workers of a helmet store paste degradable plastic substitute material on a glass in Hyderabad (Mahesh Kumar A/AP)

India banned some single-use or disposable plastic products on Friday, as part of a federal plan to phase it out in a country of nearly 1.4 billion people.

For the first stage, it has identified 19 plastic items that are not very useful but have a high potential to become litter and makes it illegal to produce, import, stock, distribute or sell them.

These items range from plastic cups and straws to ice cream sticks. Some disposable plastic bags will also be phased out and replaced with thicker ones.

Thousands of other plastic products, like bottles for water, are not covered by the ban. But the federal government has set targets for manufacturers to be responsible for recycling or disposing of them after their use.

Plastic manufacturers had appealed to the government to delay the ban, citing inflation and potential job losses.

India Plastic Ban
A man carries his tiffin box in a single use plastic bag in Hyderabad (Mahesh Kumar A/AP)

But India’s federal environment minister Bhupender Yadav said at a press briefing in New Delhi that the ban had been in the pipeline for a year.

“Now that time is up,” he said.

This is not the first time that India has considered a plastic ban, but previous plans had focused on specific regions, resulting in varying degrees of success.

A nationwide ban that includes not just the use of plastic, but also its production or importation was a “definite boost”, said Satyarupa Shekhar, the Asia-Pacific co-ordinator of the advocacy group Break Free from Plastic.

Most plastic is not recycled globally and millions of tons pollute the world’s oceans, affect wildlife and turn up in drinking water.

In 2020, more than 4.1 million metric tons of plastic waste was generated in India, according to its federal pollution watchdog.

Nearly 13 million metric tons of plastic waste was either littered or not recycled in 2019 – the highest in the world, according to Our World in Data.

“Given the magnitude of the plastic crisis, this is too little. And it’s too little both in its scope as well as the coverage,” said Shekhar.

Ravi Agarwal, the director of Toxics Link, a New Delhi-based advocacy group that focuses on waste management, added that the ban was “a good beginning”, but its success will depend on how well it is implemented.

The actual enforcement of the law will be in the hands of individual states and city municipal bodies.