Dharmendra Jore: Our promises can't be plastic anymore
Banning plastic by summer is high on state govt's mind, but the success of the eco-friendly move will depend greatly on our willingness to say no to plastic
Not many of the current generation would know that there was a time when their parents and grandparents carried cotton bags to markets. Shopkeepers and vegetable vendors would not have plastic carry bags for their patrons back then. Over the past 25 years, the scene has changed completely. We are surrounded by plastic - at our homes and public places. The exceptions to this rule are those who carry non-plastic bags as a fashion statement. Plastic rules us despite being destructive to our lives and the environment. It causes floods, arrests decomposition of waste and even poisons our food if the packing material doesn't adhere to industrial regulations. Environmentalists have been pressuring the government to ban plastic that cannot be recycled, and create public awareness about discarding used plastic. Despite laws that ban plastic bags of a certain thickness, the menace remains uncontrolled in Maharashtra and the country.
A serious talk for banning plastic has assumed significance in the state yet again, because environment minister Ramdas Kadam wants a plastic-free state. The minister has announced plans to make government offices and the Mantralaya plastic-free by the start of next summer. The ban will include plastic water bottles. He also wants plastic milk bags to be replaced by disposable material like Tetra Pak. Last weekend, Kadam triggered the debate on banning plastic at a national conference of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in which chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, NGT chief and senior judges from the Supreme and high court were present. Fadnavis lapped up the idea and gave a deadline of six months to make the state plastic-free. He said the government would come up with an idea to provide an alternative to plastic.
Not the first time
But this isn't the maiden announcement for banning plastic in Maharashtra. It began 12 years ago in the wake of the devastating floods of July 26, 2005, when plastic carry bags of thickness less than 50 microns were banned. Later, regulations were amended twice - in February 2011 and March 2016 - regarding the thickness of bags. Currently, the bags less than 50 microns thick continue to be banned. The ban didn't work because of poor enforcement as well as public apathy. However, what sets the latest proposal apart is that it goes for banning plastic bags altogether, irrespective of their thickness. It will also ban the use of plastic water bottles at government offices and starred hotels from 2018.
The plastics react
This is where the government faces flak from influential plastic manufactures, who had cried foul in the past, calling the ban a job killer and economy buster. A manufacturer told me that 70,000 jobs were lost overnight in Karnataka, where a plastic ban has been in place since last year, and the company owners were not able to service banks loans worth Rs 3,000 crore. Incidentally, the Maharashtra government has sent its team to Karnataka for studying the ban and its aftereffects. The government will have to see if the ban should extend to manufacturing, stocking and selling. It will also have to examine if equally hazardous plastic items like plates, cups and thin films should be banned here, like in Karnataka.
Little wonder then that the plastic manufacturing association in Maharashtra has sent a petition to the minister, telling him avoid the impractical ban, and seek manufactures' technical expertise for managing plastic waste by way of recycling. The industry wants the government to focus more on preventing littering and ensuring segregation, treatment and disposal of plastic waste, rather than banning it completely.
We need to do our bit
It is true that in the past, we the people and the government in general did not foresee the dangers posed by plastic. We did suffer, and yet did not make serious efforts to shun plastic. Shady manufacturers thrived in the absence of strict regulations. Where do vegetable vendors get those film-like bags from? Despite the ban, who allows them to buy and pack things in the bags of banned thickness? Because we, the customers, demand carry bags, and if the vendor doesn't have it, we ridicule him.
I have no doubt in my mind that the government alone cannot make environment-friendly initiatives successful. But it is also upon us to contribute even more. If we are literate enough to discuss climate change and pollution, why can't we do our bit by saying no to plastic wherever possible?
Dharmendra Jore is political editor, mid-day. He tweets @dharmendrajore Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org