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Plastic Ban In Tamil Nadu: Will It Work?
Tamil Nadu

Plastic Ban In Tamil Nadu: Will It Work?

Team Lede

Team Lede

Without proper waste management procedures in place, the plastic ban is likely to be of little use

By Anand Kumar

Starting today, Tamil Nadu will be free of ‘use and throw’ plastic – at least, on paper. The State government’s ban comes into force on these items:

  1. Plastic sheet / cling film used for food wrapping
  2. Plastic sheet used for spreading in dining table
  3. Plastic Thermocol plates
  4. Plastic coated paper plates
  5. Plastic coated paper cups
  6. Plastic tea cups
  7. Plastic tumbler
  8. Thermocol cups
  9. Water pouches / packets
  10. Plastic straw
  11. Plastic carry bag of all sizes & thickness
  12. Plastic coated carry bags
  13. Plastic flags
  14. Non-woven Polypropylene Bag

But is this ban really going to work?

Data available with the Tamil Nadu Plastic Manufacturers’ Association shows that every year seven lakh tons of plastic is manufactured in this State alone.

Of this around 3 lakh tons of plastic is manufactured only for packing material – for example, oil sachets, provision items in sealed plastic covers etc. This also includes the ‘use and throw’ plastic items such as carry bags, to the tune of just under one lakh tons.

This apart, around five lakh tons of plastic packing material comes into Tamil Nadu from other States and countries.

All of the plastics used in packing go directly into landfills, thereby causing environmental harm.

But with this ban that has come into effect today, what the Tamil Nadu government has done is to stop manufacture and use of only a tiny proportion of plastics in the State – just under one lakh tons out of a total of eight lakh tons.

The rest of the approximately seven lakh tons of plastic packing material will continue to go into landfills.

PLASTIC USED AS PACKING MATERIAL

Source: Tamil Nadu Plastic Manufacturers’ Association

Manufactured where Purpose Amount manufactured per year
 

Tamil Nadu

 

Packaging of food items such as oils, readymade flour, rice and wheat etc

 

 

2 lakh tons

 

Tamil Nadu

 

Single use plastics such as carry bags, plastic tumblers etc

 

 

< 1 lakh tons

 

From outside Tamil Nadu

Packaging of food items such as chocolates, snacks, hygiene products etc

 

 

5 lakh tons

 

Total

 

   

8 lakh tons

“We are in a situation where the economy cannot survive without plastic use,” said S Swaminathan, Secretary, Tamil Nadu Plastic Manufacturers’ Association. “Banning of plastic entirely is impossible. The only solution for this is to implement a proper waste management system so that plastics do not go into landfills.”

“Due to this ban, almost 5000 small scale industries will be shut and nearly 20 lakh people will lose their jobs directly or indirectly,” he added. “This is a failure of the government to implement a proper system to recycle plastics. It is not the fault of industry,” he said.

Industry also feels that there is a lot of confusion within the government on what has been banned or not.

“High level officials tell us that if packing plastics are part of manufacture, then it is allowed. But local retailers who buy commodities in bulk and then repackage them for local sale – there is no clarity on whether they are allowed or not,” said Swaminathan.

For instance, P Ramkumar, a trader based in Coimbatore, goes every week to Salem to purchase ‘paruppu’ (lentils) of various kinds in bulk from the market there. He then packs them in retail quantities and supplies them to hotels and local shops in Coimbatore. Ramkumar’s is a cottage industry and he has created his own small brand in the city.

“Is our packing allowed or banned, can we buy the plastic packing material or do we have to look for alternatives – there is absolutely no clarity,” he told The Lede. “The plastic manufacturer that I buy packaging from say that it will not be available any longer. But Food Safety officials tell me that my business is allowed and to continue with the same packaging. What am I supposed to do?” he wondered.

Senior officers of the government though deny any scope for confusion. “We have been talking about this to industry for over six months now and we have made everything clear,” Shambhu Kallolikar, Environment Secretary of the State told The Lede. “We are conducting awareness campaigns and also suggesting alternatives to single use plastics.”

The State also says that this is only a first step in a big battle that needs to be waged against plastic use.

“We cannot bring in a complete ban on plastics immediately,” said Rajendra Ratnoo, Special Officer, Plastic Ban Initiative. “We are starting with the single use plastics like carry bags. In the next stage we will implement a ban on other plastic packing materials as well. But this can happen only over a period of time.”

“The volume of plastics which are currently banned may be less but this move will help the other plastics (which are currently not banned) to be recycled easily so that they don’t end up in landfills,” he added.

The fact of the matter though is that Tamil Nadu needs to step up on its waste management schemes and policies and gear up for a keen push to implement recycling of plastics. The bulk of the recycling is done by small NGOs or private firms and individuals.

Founder and Chairman of NGO Exnora International MB Nirmal says that the amount of plastic recycled is less than five percent of what goes into landfills. “You can ban the plastic carry bags but you are not banning the ten items which are inside the carry bag which are also packed in plastic,” said Nirmal. “We do welcome the plastic ban as it is now. But to achieve the larger goal of a plastic-free Tamil Nadu, the government, meaning the corporations, the local bodies, municipalities need to take up segregation of waste and recycling on a war footing. Even if we (Exnora) encourage residents to implement source segregation of waste, the corporations and municipality workers dump everything together into a landfill. What is the use? This demotivates the public from the practice of segregation,” he added.

As per the 2014-15 annual report of the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board Solid, which is the latest available on their site, permission has been given to set up solid waste management plants in five corporations, 48 municipalities and 73 town panchayats. It is unclear as to what the current status of these projects are. Tamil Nadu has 12 corporations, 124 municipalities and 528 town panchayats.