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The plastic problem

Even as the BMC conducts raids to check the production and proliferation of plastic bags below 50 microns in the city, almost one year after the Plastic Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2011 came into effect, much is still to be done to make your city's drains plastic bag-free

On February 4, it will be a year since the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests issued the Plastic Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2011, that enforces a complete ban on the use of plastic in gutka sachets and directs shops to sell plastic bags to customers (instead of providing them for free) in order to curb the plastic menace in the city, came into effect.

Municipal corporations have now been empowered to set the price the shopkeepers (within their premises) will charge from consumers for such bags. Municipalities can also charge manufacturers of plastic packages and goods manufacturers that use plastic packaging to set up recycling and collection centres.

How much has that translated to action on the ground in Mumbai? Sunday MiD DAY went checking and came back with mixed reports. While conscientious shopkeepers charge their customers for using plastic bags above 50 microns, many still continue to flout the ban with gay abandon, thereby resulting in clogged storm water drains and inevitable flooding every monsoon.

The big deal about plastic
Plastic bags clog drains, which then cannot carry rainwater into the sea, leading to flooding during monsoons. They were found to be a major cause of the July 26 (2005) deluge that crippled the city.

Ever since, the Brinhanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) conducts regular raids to seize plastic bags below 50 microns from hawkers and establishments that continue to supply them to customers.

In 2011, the BMC seized around 3268.8 kg of plastic -- a much larger quantity than previous years, and apprehended 7,464 offenders. These raids are also the reason why your shopping malls and stores now charge you for using plastic bags.

"The raids, as well as malls and shops charging customers for using plastic bags, has brought down the rampant spread of plastic bags in the city," says an official, on the condition of anonymity.

"We keep errant manufacturing units, shops and markets on a list and check them every month. Two flying squads also perform checks across the entire city," says Chief Inspector (Shops and Establishments) R Nandanwar. He adds, "Malls charge people and also give certain discounts for using a cloth bag, which is very encouraging."

The two flying squads comprise 12 members each, who are responsible for implementing the ban. Before the monsoons, the civic body intensifies action against plastic bags to reduce the chances of drains getting clogged.

When action is taken, plastic zones are demarcated and squads are formed at the ward level to identify areas in their wards where plastic is used in large quantities. Inspectors, sanitary inspectors and nuisance detectors take action against the violators with the help of officials from the encroachment department and clean marshals, wherein they have to pay a fine.

They make you pay
Sahakari Bhandar, Matunga
"We offer Rs 2 discount to customers who carry their own cotton or paper bags. If customers don't carry their own bags, we sell them jute and cotton bags priced between Rs 2 to Rs 5 for different sizes," says department manager Suresh Kambale.

Customers Bina Doshi and Vijaya Nagada say, "I always prefer carrying my own cotton bags. We are daily customers of Sahakar Bhandar and they have been following this practice for the past three years."

Cotton Cottage, Matunga
Manger Sushil Pandey said, "We always provide cotton bags to every customer even if they have their own bags. We have been doing this for a few years now. But we may start charging customers for bags."

Max, Star Mall, Dadar
Store manager Shahreyar Rehman said, "We sell cotton bags to customers who aren't carrying their own. The bags come in three sizes and cost Rs 3, Rs 5 and Rs 7. If they carry their own bag then we offer them a discount of Rs 5."

Number crunching
> According to statistics available with the BMC, Mumbai generates at least 8,000 metric tonnes of garbage every day.
> Four per cent of this garbage comprises plastic. But despite having special intensified checks in the city, the plastic pollution has been soaring year after year.

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