Editor's Note: The plastic ban in Maharashtra has been much talked about since it was enforced on 23 June. This two-part series examines the manner in which authorities could have better addressed its implementation and how the government sees its project unfolding.
Plastic bags less than 50 microns (which are banned countrywide) are thrown on the streets carelessly. Consequently, they block sewer lines and arteries of storm water drains. Everyone must think over it and cooperate with the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation — this was one of the challenges the BMC listed in its 2016-17 report on solid waste management.
A year later, on 23 March, 2018, the Maharashtra government issued a notification imposing a statewide ban on plastic products. The ban is on the manufacture, use, transport, distribution, wholesale and retail sale and storage and import of plastic bags (both with and without a handle) and single-use disposable dishes, cups, plates and glasses, plastic packaging to wrap or store products, and thermocol containers and decoratives.
Hurried implementation and lack of preparation
The rule meant that shopkeepers, retailers, packaging industries and other stakeholders had three months to prepare for the ban on plastic products. That's hardly any time to find and adapt to using alternatives.
"A ban like this needs time and preparation," said Swati Singh Sambyal, programme manager for environmental governance at the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE). "Three months is not enough time to ensure that the ban is successful. It should have been implemented in phases."
Planning and execution, besides people's willingness to do their bit, are key for this initiative to work. "The success of the plastic ban basically depends on behaviour change, and it will not work if it's implemented in a rush," Sambyal added. "To ask for change in a small span of time isn't easy."
According to data from the Central Pollution Control Board, plastic waste collected from Maharashtra rose from 1,045.24 tonnes per annum in 2011-2012 to 4,69,098 tonnes per annum in 2015-2016.
Given that plastic consumption in Maharashtra is among the highest across Indian states, the ban was a landmark decision, and CSE Deputy Director General Chandra Bhushan agrees. "The plastic ban in Maharashtra is a very bold initiative, and it is long-overdue across the country," he said. "There is no economic, social or environmental rationality behind single-use plastic. It has a high environmental cost."
Sambyal pointed out that last year Kenya enforced a ban on plastic for the third time after two failed attempts. Learning from its mistakes, the African nation made sure that this time, it had alternatives to offer before imposing the ban on people and expecting change.
Giving an example from closer to home, she noted the green protocols implemented in Kerala about four to five years ago. For instance, when events are organised, the state approaches organisations that provide steel utensils and cutlery, and no one complains about it. "Such systems ultimately works on people's mindsets," she said. "When Kerala brought these green protocols into force, it deep-dived into the solutions aspect. This is the approach needed in Maharashtra."