A 56 % reduction in usage of plastic bags has been seen at stores

Have you got used to carrying your own shopping bag to the market? Looks like many shoppers have started doing that ever since the Ministry of Environment and Forests launched the go-green initiative a few months ago, which disallows giving away free plastic bags to customers.

According to Kumar Rajagopalan, CEO, Retailers Association of India (RAI), which has enforced the rule for all its members, there has been a reduction of 56 per cent in the usage of plastic bags ever since shops started charging extra for them.

This is based on a study conducted by RAI at all its member stores across the country. The study also sought opinion of shoppers on this initiative, where 65 per cent of people welcomed it.

Of the remaining 35 per cent, 15 per cent felt that more time should have been given before charging a fee and the rest wanted alternatives to plastic carry bags at stores.

Retailers, however, say there is a long way to go before this move can bring an impact to the environment. “We are going to impact only five per cent of the retail market,” says Mr. Rajagopalan, adding that the highest support came from Andhra Pradesh where ban on plastic bags is strictly being enforced.

RAI has over 700 retailers as members, with a good number of them in Tamil Nadu.

While many retail chains in the city are charging a fee starting from Re. 1, enforcing them is a challenge. Store employees at Nilgiris Super Market, Kasturba Nagar say there is a reduction of only 10 per cent and many shoppers do not mind paying a few rupees more.

A representative of Wills Lifestyle said that charging for plastic bags has cut consumption by 50 per cent at its outlets in the city. Many other stores are offering paper bags, cloth bags or jute bags as an alternative to plastic bags. A few of the Reliance Fresh outlets are packing vegetables in cartons.

A recent study on ‘Domestic Green Packaging Industry' by Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) also goes to show that a large number of domestic companies are opting for eco-friendly packaging.

ASSOCHAM interacted with about 200 representatives in Chennai and nearly half of the manufacturers said they are increasingly adopting renewable packaging technologies, environmentally friendly light materials and cost-effective methods.

Families too are finding a significant dip in the number of plastic carry bags stocked at homes. “Previously, I used to give away plastic carry bags to my house maid, now I use them judiciously as the number of bags at home is reducing in number,” said Sangeetha Niranjan Kumar, homemaker and a resident of Nungambakkam.

Homemaker Suman Jain makes sure she carries her cloth bags when she leaves home ever since stores implemented the rule. But the plastic littered over at dustbins has not at all reduced, she notes. “Even your local stores should charge for plastic bags, only then will it be effective,” adds Ms. Jain, a resident of Indira Nagar.

The real challenge is to see how cities are following. “We plan to do a survey with the help of a research agency in every city,” Mr. Rajagopalan added.

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