By Brandon Pytel
On October 2, India was expected to announce a single-use plastic ban for six types of plastic. That ban has since been put on hold, with officials stating the ban would be too disruptive to industry, as reported by Reuters India today.
The ban was to follow Indian Prime Minster Narendra Modi’s 2018 commitment to eliminate single-use plastic by 2022.
“I think the time has come for the world to say good bye to single-use plastic,” said Modi at a United Nations meeting in September this year, doubling down on previous statements.
The ban — which targeted plastic bags, cups, plates, small bottles, straws and plastic pouches — was expected to cut annual plastic consumption by 5–10 percent, according to Indian officials. It was also to require all plastic items produced in the future be made only of recyclable plastic.
Now all that is put on hold.
Swachh Bharat, India’s official cleanup campaign, tweeted today that the campaign was “not about banning single use plastic but creating awareness and a people’s movement to curb its use.”
That message runs counter to the messaging leading up to the ban, as reported by numerous news outlets over the last several months.
Today, Chandra Kishore Mishra, the top official at India’s Ministry of Environment, told Reuters, “There is no ban being issued. Now, it’s a question of telling people about the ill-effects of plastic, of collecting and sending for recycling so people don’t litter.”
The very reference of a ban means people were expecting one. But semantics aside, India’s current path forward may leave a lot to be desired. Collection and recycling are classic industry talking points, says David Ayer, End Plastic Pollution campaign manager at Earth Day Network.
Recycling puts pressure on consumers and lets industry off the hook for producing so much plastic in the first place. That you can only buy produce wrapped in plastic or Gatorade in plastic bottles, for example, is a fault in our system, not individual behaviors.
“It is ultimately a big letdown to see none of the proposed ban go through,” says Ayer. “And to see that the reason why is once again a government folding to the desires of business.”
From the get-go, the proposed ban was under scrutiny by companies. Many businesses lobbied hard against this proposed policy and had already started negotiating exemptions for their products. Some companies also worried that the ban may affect the supply chain and throw off preparations ahead of the country’s festive season, as reported by Reuters.
The transition would have undoubtedly been tough, and the execution of the ban remained unclear in the months leading up to the ban’s expected rollout.
But, Ayer says, “Bold and ambitious attempts to make a change are the only way we can possibly overcome the threat of plastic pollution.”
India is by no means the world’s largest plastic polluter, but poor waste management systems make its problem worse than other countries (another reason recycling and collection is ineffective). India produces 26,000 metric tons of plastic trash daily, much of which end up in landfills or on the streets and eventually, spill over into waterways. Single-use plastics are a big part of this problem — globally, 40 percent of plastic is used for single-use packaging.
It’s no surprise that India wanted to ban single-use plastic. But now, with the ban shelved, where does India go from here?
“PM Modi’s announcement could have been a powerful message to the world that it was time to move beyond this material,” says Ayer. “India should not let this idea go.”
As of yesterday, stocks of paper producers that supply the country were seeing gains in response to the expected policy change. The country was preparing to shift in order to accommodate the end of single-use plastics. It seemed like people were ready.
Should the ban be reintroduced, Ayer thinks India should include stakeholders in the policymaking process, as well as exempt plastic products that are necessary for certain foods and medicines without alternative packaging available. Ultimately, though, we shouldn’t “let a few issues with a largely positive policy tank the entire plan.”
Learn more about Earth Day Network’s End Plastic Pollution campaign, and find additional ways to reduce your own plastic waste. April 22, 2020 is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Now is the time to mobilize to protect our planet for future generations.