“Please do not embarrass us by asking for a polythene bag for carrying milk pouches. Get your own bag,’’ reads a fresh hand-made notice on a cardboard above a milk-vendors outlet in East Delhi.
Naresh Kumar was quick off the blocks. No sooner had the Delhi Government ban on plastic carry bags come into effect on November 22 -- a month after the notification was issued -- the price of the bags began going up sharply and started eating into his nominal profit of 50 paise per pouch.
“The only other option was that we had to start charging the customers for the cloth bags which cost about 10 times as much. So I thought of advising my customers to bring their own cloth or jute bags for buying milk,’’ he says. But even Naresh does not know how he would package the loose paneer or cottage cheese he sells. “As of now I am providing the polythene for it. Let’s see what would happen later. Probably I will have to wrap it in newspaper.’’
Same is the story with young Asad Qureshi, a meat shop owner in Darya Ganj. “My father says earlier too meat used to be wrapped in newspaper. Probably we would have to go back to a bygone era.’’ But isn’t the newspaper ink harmful for the human body? “Well, I do not know and there is no other option before us,’’ he insists.
Delhi Environment Secretary Sanjiv Kumar differed on this. “Meat sellers at many places have started selling meat in plastic and aluminium boxes,’’ he says, adding that the ban is only on a certain category of plastic carry bags. “Moreover, there are no restrictions on use of plastic for pre-packaged articles.’’
Asked if use of cloth, plastic containers and other relatively more bulky items like aluminium in place of plastic bags would lead to increase in the quantity of solid waste, the official said at least this waste would be largely bio-degradable. He also added that more categories of packaging material and pouches may be banned in future.
The earlier Government notification in January 2009 had banned sale and use of plastic carry bags, but now the ban has been extended to cover the manufacture of these bags as well.
The official said notices have also been issued to about 85 registered manufacturers of plastic bags across Delhi to stop their production. The manufacturers have in the meantime approached the Delhi High Court for relief under the banner of the All India Plastic Industries’ Association.
Chairman of the Environment Committee of AIPIA Ravi Kumar Aggarwal says while the Association has challenged the ban on manufacture of plastic bags in the High Court, it is also fighting a case against the 2009 notification in the Supreme Court.
Mr. Aggarwal says while officially there are 200 manufacturers of plastic bags in Delhi, about 2,000 unregistered manufacturers are also there. “The manufacturers in Delhi supply bags all over the country. So, the need of the hour is to curb sale of such bags in Delhi and prosecute and challan only those manufacturers who sell in the local market.’’
Mr. Aggarwal says as far as ban on plastic bags is concerned, it is nothing but a piecemeal approach. “Plastic constitutes about 5 to 7 per cent of all solid waste and of this only about 10 per cent are plastic bags. So all this brouhaha is for less than 1 per cent of the total solid waste.’’
On the Government’s claim that plastic pollutes the environment and chokes the drains and sewers, Mr. Agarwal says “this is just a myth – drains get blocked as desilting does not take place and debris also flows into it.’’ He insists that the problem actually lies in the civic agencies’ failure to recycle trashed plastic bags.
Environmentalists, however, have a different take on this. Kushal Singh Yadav of Centre for Science and Environment was earlier quoted as having said that “alternative’’ were bio-degradable bags which are prepared from cellulose that can be easily processed and which decompose in the natural environment.
In the meantime, the ban has meant a lot of inconvenience to the consumers at large.
“Carrying cloth or jute bags to every place is just too much to ask for. Moreover, why all this trouble when the benefits from it would be minuscule,’’ asks Ashish Kaul, a resident of Mayur Vihar.