“I have cleared my house of all the plastic bags. I cannot afford to pay Rs 5,000 as fine.”
“Madam, they are saying that they will come to check our houses to see if we have plastic. Do you think they will come?”
“Everyone on the road is carrying cloth bags today. Who wants to pay fine? ”
“Vegetable vendors are telling us to go home and bring a bag. None of them have plastic bags.”
“Will it be alright to carry this water bottle? I won’t be caught and fined, right?”
The Maharashtra Plastic and Thermocol Products (Manufacture, Usage, Sale, Transport, Handling and Storage) Notification, 2018 that imposes a ban on several disposable items (with effect from 23rd June 2018) would appear extreme, but citizens in general seem to be quite serious about following the rules. Unlike earlier times, consumers are being held liable for abuse of plastic/disposables, and the penalties for non-compliance are steep.
Ban on plastic is not new to Maharashtra. The Maharashtra Plastic Carry Bags (Manufacture and Usage) Rules, 2006, had imposed a ban on plastic bags of less than 50 microns. Despite this twelve-year old legislation, thin bags continued to be manufactured, vendors continued to procure them, and consumers continued to demand them.
In Kandivali where I live, when Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) inspectors periodically did the rounds to catch violators, vendors would quickly hide their plastic bags. Those not so quick would get fined Rs 500 or so, but as soon as the officers went out of sight, the bags would resurface. Those who were slightly law-abiding did not use carry bags, but they’d accede to customers’ requests and give them ‘kirana’ bags (plastic bags without handles), totally defeating the purpose of the ban.
Plastic carry bags apart, there has been indiscriminate use of disposable items at restaurants, food courts, roadside eateries and home parties. Some of us tried to educate the vendors and people about the problems associated with disposable plastic and thermocol items, but most often we would be told that as long as these are available, they would be used.
Like us, there have been several groups of people in different areas of Mumbai working in their own way to achieve reduced use of plastic. The Zero Plastic Bag campaign in Vile Parle, initiated by Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) officer Mr Subash Dalvi way back in 2010, was one of the few successful efforts in Mumbai, achieved through persistence and education through the “BMC system”, but failed to get replicated in most of the city.
With pressure on the environment and the solid waste management system, it seems that the Maharashtra government had no choice but to authorise regulations for manufacture, usage, sale, storage and transport of products made from plastic and thermocol (which generates non-biodegradable waste), through the 2018 notification.
The notification gives detailed observations that lead to the ban, and anyone who reads it would realise that the government has made a sincere effort to correct the lapses of the past.
Concerns about usage and disposal of plastic are diverse and include accumulation of waste in landfills, water bodies and in natural habitats, physical problems for wild animals resulting from ingestion or entanglement in plastic, the leaching of chemicals from plastic products and the potential for plastics to transfer chemicals to wildlife and humans are increasing.
Because of non-biodegradable plastic waste handling of municipal solid waste becomes difficult and incurs more financial burden and also due to burning such waste in open environment causes various diseases in humans and animals.
It is observed that non-biodegradable garbage is responsible for clogging drains and nallas causing flood in urban settlement leading to loss of lives and damage to properties and infrastructure.
Plastic waste and micro plastic cause danger to marine and freshwater bio-diversity and also hamper ecosystem services due to spreading of such waste in and around ecosystems, on tourists places, beaches and on agriculture and forest areas.
Non-biodegradable plastic waste and micro plastic are having negative impacts on fish diversity and fisheries activity.
Non-biodegradable waste is posing problems in effective implementation of Clean India Mission.
Detailed stake-holders consultations and deliberations with the field level officials were undertaken, and public notices were also published in leading newspapers.
Despite the ban on plastic bags of less than 50 micron through Maharashtra Plastic Carry Bags (Manufacture and Usage) Rules, 2006, there is increase in the non-biodegradable plastic garbage waste causing damage to environment and health.
What is the ban about?
- The ban applies to the whole State of Maharashtra for manufacture, usage, transport, distribution, wholesale and retail sale, storage and import of certain single-use plastic/thermocol items.
- The ban is applicable to everyone (persons, organisations, entities, etc.).
- The ban is applicable everywhere (beaches, tourist places, public places, cinemas, malls, railway stations, religious places, etc.). Only airports are not included in the list, but once you’re out of the airport, beware!
What are the items that are banned?
Single-use plastic and thermocol disposables
- Plastic bags/packets (with or without handle) irrespective of thickness/grade such as
– plastic shopping bags given by branded shops
– plain carry bags
– kirana bags/ bags used to put food items/ food grain
– zip-lock bags
– garbage bags
- Disposable plastic and thermocol/polystyrene products such as
– single-use disposable containers/cutlery such as plates, glasses, spoons, straws
– containers used for packaging food in restaurants, hotels
– cups/pouches to store or carry liquids, etc.
- Plastic to wrap or store products such as
– cling wrap
– plastic covering
– decorative shiny gift wrap
– cellophane paper for bouquets
– disposable plastic trays
– bubble wrap – not explicitly mentioned (press reports indicate that shopkeepers were using bubble wrap thinking it was exempt)
– air pocket plastics – not explicitly mentioned
- Non-woven polypropylene bags
- Plastic and thermocol for decoration purposes (those used in-between flowers, “welcome” signs, etc.)
What are the items that are exempt from the ban?
- Plastic and plastic bags used for packaging of medicines
- Food grade virgin plastic bags not less than 50 micron thickness used for packaging of milk – with buy back details printed
- Plastic cover used to wrap the material at the manufacturing stage or which is an integral part of manufacturing – with guidelines to recycle or reuse such plastic printed prominently on the cover and material – includes plastic sacks used for rice, biscuit wrappers, etc.
- PET/PETE bottles made of high quality food grade virgin Bisphenol-A free material having liquid holding capacity – with predefined buy back price printed – Rs 1 for 1 litre or more; Rs 2 for less than 1 litre (as per amendment dated 18th Apr 2018, even bottles of less than 0.5 litres will be exempt)
- Compostable plastic bags or material used for plant nurseries, horticulture, agriculture, handling of solid waste – certified and “Use exclusively for this specific purpose only” shall be prominently printed on it
- Plastic and plastic bags for export purpose only, manufactured in the Special Economic Zone and export oriented units, etc.
- Items not in the list of inclusions or exemptions – includes the following
– disposable pens
– disposable gloves and hair caps
– plastic items that are not of single-use, such as lunch boxes, water bottles, baskets, pencil boxes, pouches.
What will happen if you are found with any banned item in Mumbai?
- You have to pay a fine
– Rs 5,000 for the first offence
– Rs 10,000 for the second offence
– Rs 25,000 plus three months in jail for the third offence.
- While the fines are targeted at manufacturers, no one is excluded. There was a proposal to reduce the fines for common people, but this was not accepted by the law committee of the BMC.
Who is authorised to fine you in Mumbai?
- 249 inspectors have been designated as members of the Plastic Ban Squad.
- They are empowered to impose fines under section 12 of the Maharashtra Non-Biodegradable Plastic Control Act, and issue receipts.
- They have been given uniforms (smart ultramarine blue jackets) and issued ID cards.
- Fines will be imposed starting Monday June 25, 2018.
- A list of 98 inspectors and their contact numbers can be seen below – citizens are free to contact them to verify fines, and for clarifications.
What can Mumbaikars do with the banned items?
- As per the notification, all banned items were to be disposed off within the three-month grace period given by BMC (by 23rd June 2018), either by selling to recyclers or depositing it at BMC collection points.
- If you still have banned items, you may deposit them at any of the 37 collection points (map below).
- If you have at least 10 kg of banned items, you can have them collected by calling the BMC helpline 1800 222357. As you can imagine, this number is perpetually engaged and difficult to get through to. BMC has organised 24 trucks to facilitate doorstep collection.
Map courtesy: http://www.togethervcan.in/
Impact of the plastic ban
According to a recent UNDP report single-use plastic comprises 89% of the plastic in the ocean. Given this, a state like Maharashtra (that generates 1,200 tonnes of plastic waste everyday), could significantly cut down on its plastic waste, making it easier to manage, and addressing most of the concerns raised in the notification.
Within a day of the ban coming into force, there are visible changes in home delivery in the apartment complex where I live. Groceries are brought in plastic baskets instead of plastic carry bags. The milk man carries his big can instead of pre-filling into plastic bags. The prospect of stiff fines have achieved what years of coaxing (to let go of plastic bags) could not.
If not plastic, what?
Alternatives to plastic/thermocol disposables have gained in popularity and new ones are likely to emerge. However, we need to tread carefully, lest we get swamped with new problems.
We are fortunate that the notification had the foresight to include non-woven polypropylene bags that are widely used as an alternative to plastic. In places like Chandigarh, where plastic has been banned for several years, people treat the non-woven bags just like plastic and one can see these littering the streets. There are many in Mumbai using non-woven bags thinking they are “cloth” bags. In the days to come they will get to know that these are in the banned list.
Many vendors have switched from plastic bags to bags that say “I am not a plastic bag”. These bags are different from plastic in that they are either not made from petroleum (and are compostable under certain conditions) and/or they contain certain additives that make them decompose unlike normal plastic bags. However, experiments I have carried out have shown that unlike food waste, these bags take years to turn into compost in normal compost bins, and are likely to pose challenges similar to plastic (they cause suffocation like plastic bags and will block drains and they’ll stick on trees like balloons; not sure what happens when they enter the stomach of a cow). Electrically operated composting machines in residential societies cannot handle them.
So being more-or-less single use, not recyclable, and hard to compost, they’ll need to be thrown out. They may get mistaken for plastic, in which case they can ruin plastic recycling.
Other disposable options like paper and areca plates, though better than plastic are still disposable, creating unnecessary rubbish. Handling them in a community composting set up requires extra capacity. Apartment complexes like ours, that do in-house composting would be better off without them.
One really hopes that the firm rules and fines will make people realise the way we’ve exploited our earth, and eventually lead to a reduction in the use of disposables. One hopes this will take us back to the days of the 1970s and 80s when we didn’t mind spending a bit of time sorting our vegetables and reusing our jam jars. Citizens can make it happen!
[The article was first published by the author on her personal blog, and has been republished with permission.]