Now this one is like opening up the Pandora’s box. Bags litter the roadside and decorate the city’s trees with a polythene blossom. Cattle ingest them and drains are
clogged with them. Thinner bags in particular are a menace, because they are of little value to Delhi’s
“rag-pickers”, who sift rubbish for anything they can sell or recycle. Every now and then, there is a new drive to eradicate plastic bags from our lives.
I cannot but highlight the ambiguity and hypocrisy in the regulation regime. The trendy grocery store in your up market mall would give your fancy cheese in
designer brown paper bags but the sabji wala (vegetable vendor) would still give potato and onion in low quality plastic bags.
The government has been trying to curb the plastic menace for long. But its regulations were recently found wanting by the Delhi High Court, which then banned
bags in markets and shops, as well as hotels, hospitals and malls. It also banned thin bags (less than 0.04 millimetres thick) outright.
After achieving some success in banning plastic bags in malls and big shops, Delhi Government is all set to crack the whip on small shops and weekly vegetable
markets to prohibit its usage in the city.
Big bag problem
- What the world is doing
- And what India needs to do
China imposed a ban in 2008 on free plastic bags, making their sale compulsory. The country pledged to put a stop to its 3bn-a-day habit after the ban and was
successful in curbing the demand by two-thirds.
According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the problem in South Africa (8bn plastic bags a year) was so bad that plastic bags were beginning to be
known as the "new national flower", competing with the protea – the real one.
The solution to the problem came in the form of a ban on the manufacturing, trade and commercial distribution of plastic bags with a thickness of less than 30
Anything below 30 microns can blow away in even a light wind, and cannot be easily recycled. Increasing the thickness of plastic bags
has been found to have a positive impact on littering.
Ireland levied a tax on the use of plastic bags in 2002. This
led to an over 90 per cent reduction in the use of plastic shopping bags.
And now, the not so successful cases
Several other countries such as Australia, Bangladesh, South Africa, Thailand and some states in the US, have taken similar measures with varying degrees of success.
In Bangladesh, serious and repeated flooding, which resulted in major loss of life, was reportedly linked to drain blockages caused by plastic bags.
floods prompted the government to impose a ban on the sale and use of polythene bags in the capital city, Dhaka, in 2002. But no results are available on its success,
suggesting that there has been little evidence of a positive outcome on
In Kenya, roughly 82 per cent of plastic bags used each year end up on the streets or in the sewage system. No outright ban has been considered, and even levies have
been opposed by those who say it will kill an industry that supports thousands of people.
Depending on the thickness, plastic bags take between 20 and 1,000 years to break down in the environment. They release toxic gases when they burn; they create
stagnant pools which can become a breeding ground for malarial mosquitoes; and they suffocate or disrupt the digestion of animals that accidentally consume them.
Solution for India
Back home, some of the hilly states, notably Himachal Pradesh and more recently Uttarakhand, have shown some success in restricting the use of plastics.
"It is impractical to impose a blanket ban on the use of plastic all over the country. The real challenge is to improve municipal solid waste management
systems," Union Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said.
The biggest challenge staring at us today is a viable alternative to plastic. Simply put, a carry bag that is not made of plastic is recyclable, is affordable
and not considered an eye sore. That’s the order of the day. Anyone listening?
The Delhi Degradable Plastic Bag
(Manufacture, Sale and Usage) and
Garbage (Control) Act 2000,
which was amended in
2005, states that
four- and five-star
hotels, hospitals with
100 beds or more,
restaurants with seating
arrangement of 100 and more, Mother
Dairy outlets (milk booths), liquor
vends and shopping malls will only use
degradable plastic bags.