India on Friday imposed a ban on many single-use plastics to prevent waste from choking rivers and poisoning wildlife. However, experts say it faces strong headwinds from unprepared manufacturers and consumers unwilling to pay more.
The country generates around four million tons of plastic waste annually, of which about a third is not recycled and ends up in waterways and landfills that regularly catch fire and exacerbate air pollution.
Stray cows chewing plastic are a common sight in Indian cities, and a recent study found tracks in elephant droppings in the northern forests of Uttarakhand state.
Estimates vary, but around half is from single-use items, and the new ban includes the manufacture, import and sale of ubiquitous items like plastic straws and cups, and the wrapping of cigarette packs.
For the time being, products such as plastic bags below a certain thickness and so-called multi-layer packaging are excluded.
Authorities have promised to crack down after the ban – first announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2018 – went into effect.
Inspectors will fan out from Friday to check for suppliers or traders violating the rules, which face a maximum fine of 100,000 rupees ($1,265) or five years in prison.
– Industry lobbying –
About half of India’s regions have already tried to enforce their own regulations, but as the state of rivers and landfills attests, success has been mixed.
Plastics companies, which employ millions of people, say alternatives are expensive and have lobbied the government to delay the ban.
Pintu, who makes his living chopping off coconuts with a machete and serving them to customers with a plastic straw, doesn’t know what he’s going to do.
Switching to “expensive paper straws will be difficult. I’ll probably pass the cost on to customers,” he told AFP in New Delhi.
“I’ve heard it will help the environment, but I don’t see how it will make a difference for us,” he added.
Analysts at GlobalData said small packs of plastic straws account for 35 percent of soft drink volumes, meaning manufacturers will be “hit hard”.
“(The) budget-conscious crowd is unable to foot the bill for green alternatives,” added GlobalData’s Bobby Verghese.
– ‘Resistance’ –
Jigish N. Doshi, president of industry group Plastindia Foundation, expects “temporary” job losses but said the bigger problem is companies “that invested huge capital in machines that may not be useful after the ban.”
“It’s not easy to make different products from machines and the government could help by offering some subsidies and helping to develop and buy alternative products,” Doshi told AFP.
Satish Sinha of environmental group Toxics Link told AFP that “there will be initial resistance” as finding replacements could be difficult, but it was a “very welcome move”.
“There will be difficulties, and we may pay the price, but if you are serious about the environment, this is an important issue that requires a collective push,” he said.
One young company trying to be part of the change is Ecoware, which makes single-use biodegradable products at its factory outside of Delhi.
CEO Rhea Mazumdar Singhal told AFP that the appalling state of landfills and widespread plastic consumption inspired her company.
“We have seen many bans before, but as citizens, the power is with us,” Singhal said.
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