Talks on a ban and boycott on plastic carry bags invariably lead to the question, what else? Paper and cloth bags are the way forward, according to many who have long forsaken the use of plastics and embraced environment-friendly materials.

The common notion is that paper bags cannot serve the same purpose as plastic bags. Cost effective, reusable and environment friendly bags that use paper and clothes as raw material are available. They are water-resistant and strong, points out A.R. Shafeek, director, Swadeshi Grama Vikasana Kendra. The centre has been conducting training sessions in paper-bag making and has trained over thousands of volunteers, self-help group members and Kudumbasree workers.

The change cannot be implemented in a single day. There needs to be a systematic approach to bring about this change. People need to be educated and made aware of the advantages of using environment-friendly materials. The government has not yet enforced strict rules on the use of plastic. Unless the issue is taken seriously and proper awareness of the need for minimal use of polythene bags is created, public will continue to show a lackadaisical attitude towards the issue, says Mr. Shafeek.

The ban on plastic bags in supermarkets will be a challenge. It will require paper-bag making industry to be ready with sufficient capacity, if paper bags need to become a viable solution for large-scale use, says an industrial manufacturer of paper bags.

Many training sessions on paper-bag making have been conducted in the city but these bags will not get the needed market as long as there is use of plastics. At Rs.1.50 a piece, the paper bags can be costly compared to plastic bags. However, with intervention from the government, these rates can be reduced, says S. Rakesh, who runs a paper-bag making unit in the city.