Single-use-plastic has been officially banned in Kerala since January 1, but the government machinery appears to be clueless about finding an alternative to plastic.
It is imperative for Kerala to look at similar ban in other Indian states, which was marred by uneven enforcement, ambiguity on the banned items and pressure from trading bodies. As many as 18 states have banned plastic so far.
Let's examine the effectiveness of the bans in some of the states and lessons Kerala can learn from them.
Kerala's neighbour banned plastic a year ago and reports suggest that the clampdown has been largely successful.
A few Chennai residents said the ban has been effective in their neighbourhood.
"We carry cloth bags whenever we go out for shopping. Use of plastic containers for food takeaways has come down. Even fish is delivered in paper containers," Aswathy, a Chennai-based marketing executive, told Onmanorama.
"Plastic bags, straws and other single-use-plastic items can hardly be found in shops these days. Tender coconut vendors too provide paper straws," she said.
According to a report in The Hindu, a clampdown by corporations and panchayats on illegally hoarded plastic bags has checked the exponential rise of plastic.
The Greater Chennai Corporation has taken the lead and seized over 500 tonnes of plastics.
What threatens the ban is the fake biodegradable plastic that has been flooding the market through black market.
The success of the ban in Tamil Nadu can be attributed to the the systematic execution process. The ban was imposed after government institutions executed a zero-plastic-policy. It undertook a campaign to educate the population on the need for the ban and the way to go about it.
After the ban came into effect, top officials were given the task of implementing it. The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board also took steps to ensure that the illegal plastic items did not find their way into the state.
Plastic consumption has significantly come down in Maharashtra after it banned the material in March 2018, but it is still an integral part of people's day-to-day life in the state.
“Most shopkeepers ask customers to carry a bag. If not, they provide cloth and paper bags for a price,” says Revathy, an IT professional based in Mumbai. “For some products like fish for instance, no alternative has emerged,” she said.
Local media reports suggested the Bombay Municipal Corporation (BMC) has lost steam after its initial crack down against plastic.
According to the Mumbai Mirror, the BMC seized close to 80,000 kg of plastic and collected more than Rs 4.34 crore in fines from shopkeepers in about 14.5 lakh inspections after the imposition of the ban, but the drive has been fizzled out since then.
The municipality faced two issues. One, it ran out of space to store the plastic and two, it could not find a suitable party to recylcle the waste.
Himachal Pradesh was the first state to ban plastic in 2009, but it is still struggling to achieve the desired result, thanks to the tourist inflow and non-inclusion of PET bottles in the purview of the ban.
According The Times of India, Himachal's efforts to use the collected plastic waste for road tarring has been brought to a complete halt due to difficulty in procuring clean plastic waste from local bodies.
On October 2, the state launched a scheme to buy back non-recyclable, single-use-plastic waste with a minimum support price of Rs75 per kg to incentivise segregation and recycling of plastic waste.
Though a partial ban on plastic items is in place in Delhi-NCR region, the inefficacy of the waste segregation process is stalling the efforts to achieve sustainability.
According to India Today, 75 per cent of the garbage is dumped in polythene bags despite the blanket ban. When garbage is wrapped in polythene bags, segregation and effective recycling becomes next to impossible.
The fact that most residents are oblivious to the existence of the ban or the alternatives to plastic is yet another issue.
Takeaways for Kerala
The issues persistent in the other states are relevant to Kerala and the state should take necessary steps to ensure that the ban will be strictly implemented. But it appears that the state is ill-equipped to achieve the target.
Constant vigil by the pollution control board on the hoarding of banned plastic items is important if the policy is to be a success. Local body secretaries and Pollution Control Board officials has been currently entrusted to take action.
Pressure from traders
As pointed out by the Kerala Vyapari Vyavasayi Ekopana Samiti (KVVES), the powerful traders' body in the state, it is not reasonable to demand retailers to change their packaging technique in a month. The KVVES has already threatened to go on strike if government takes stringent action against them.
The High Court has provided a grace period of 15 days before prosecution is taken against the offenders.
Though the government needs to work out an amicable solution with the traders of the state, it needs to keep in mind the long term objective. This policy requires research, time and dedicated implementation.
Awareness on segregation, alternatives
Segregation at source is a key component for plastic recycling. Awareness campaigns at all levels is essential to make sure that a thorough segregation of waste is done by households and enterprises at source.
The campaigns should also include sessions on viable alternatives.
The Kudumbashree has adopted the idea of cloth bags as a substitute for plastic. Eco-friendly bags are made using clothes, jute and paper at 3,000 units. Thousand women from 10 apparel parks have been assigned for this task. The price would be Rs 10-50 per bag.
The manufacture and distribution of other eco-friendly products and utensils should also be stepped up.
Exemptions to state-owned enterprises
Though the government had instructed the Beverages corporation, Kerafed, Milma, and Water Authority among others to buy back plastic bottles and covers, arrangements for this has not been completed.
Meanwhile, these enterprises remain clueless as to what packaging technique they would eventually adopt when the ban catches up with them. Many of Tamil Nadu government's TASMAC outlets, which has a monopoly over wholesale and retail vending of alcoholic beverages is yet to substitute plastic tumblers with glass. Kerala needs to be careful not to tread down this path if it is serious about the ban.
There is little clarity on the processing of plastic collected by local bodies via Haritha Karma Sena.
There are only 133 units in Kerala to shred the plastic and use it for road construction. Not all local bodies have started material collection centres for collecting plastic. Currently, there are 800 collection centres.
If Kerala does not commit the required resources to improve the infrastructure and execute the ban relentlessly, it is likely to end up like its less successful counterparts in this effort.