A committee set up to examine the government's draft rules on plastic carry bags and suggest financial measures to promote alternatives has not yet reached consensus on whether such bags are harmful in the first place.

On April 30, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests named an eight-member committee to review the draft Plastics (Manufacture, Usage and Waste Management) Rules, 2009, and the comments and suggestions it has attracted, and to review the cross-national experience of recent policies on plastic carry bags and recycling. The committee has also been asked “to suggest economic instruments, including fiscal measures, to promote environment-friendly alternatives to plastic carry bags”. It is this part of the terms of reference that has displeased T.K. Bandhopadhyay of the Indian Centre for Plastics in the Environment (ICPE).

In an e-mail sent to fellow committee members on May 3, he said this point needed “appropriate modification”. Otherwise, it “indicates that a decision has already been taken on the subject matter, alleging that plastic carry bags are not environment-friendly. The scientific evidence and reality do not support that statement,” reads the e-mail shared with The Hindu by one of the other committee members.

The ICPE's founding members are plastic and petrochemical industry associations and its charter is “to help sustain an environment friendly image of plastics”.

“We need to have consensus on this first,” said a committee member who did not wish to be named. “There are many suggestions that will be shot down by the plastic industry.”

The committee is holding its first meeting this Thursday, and several members have emphasised the need for a practical approach. “The intention of the government is for us to come out with something practical, which will actually work on the ground,” said Ravi Aggarwal of Toxics Link, who is one of the committee members. “We need to create real alternatives that are acceptable to all stakeholders.”

He felt that recycling fees and forcing people to pay for their shopping bags could make a difference if these were implemented properly.

“Look at the point about banning all laminates and multi-layered packaging. I personally think it's a very good idea, but it won't succeed because the plastic industry will not allow it,” said another member, Bharti Chaturvedi of Chintan, commenting on the draft rule banning the kind of packaging that is used on snack packs. She was happy that the draft rules take a wider perspective than just making guidelines on acceptable plastic thickness, but felt that incentives were just as important as policing. “We need to make people want to use the alternatives,” she said.

Another committee member suggested that plastic water bottles, which have become almost as ubiquitous as carry bags, should also come under the scope of the rules. He suggested that extended producer responsibility must be mandated, to ensure that the producer takes care of collecting and paying for final disposal.

The committee , which includes academics, NGO representatives and a lawyer, will submit its report by June-end.

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