Over 300 locations in the city, including parks, places of worship and tourist places, are likely to be covered in the proposed ban on plastics by the Chennai Corporation. The notification on the ban is expected to be made shortly.

The plastic ban on the Marina was imposed in August, 2009. Plastic bags and water sachets sold in shops were seized as part of the ban, but the civic body is yet to levy a fine on the public for violation of the plastic ban on the Marina.

Now, those who violate the plastic ban will be penalised and would have to pay a fine of Rs.100, according to a senior official of the Chennai Corporation.

A total of 3,500 tonnes of waste is being generated a day in the city and plastics constitute around 2 per cent of the total waste. Some senior officials of the Chennai Corporation were determined to impose a total ban on plastics in the city but constraints in enforcement have made them impose the ban in a phased manner.

The Chennai Corporation is also studying various options of covering locations where public gather in large numbers. Even though residential areas are not covered by the ban, some localities around the Adyar Poonga (Tholkappia Poonga) are likely to have plastic ban.

“We may also cover hospitals in the ban. A decision is yet to be taken,” an official said, adding that the civic body was also considering a plastic ban in commercial areas such as T. Nagar.

Elected representatives stressed the need to create awareness of alternative measures that could be used before introducing the ban across the city. Opposition floor leader in the council Saidai P. Ravi said though the ban on plastics on Marina has reduced plastic litter by 60 per cent, it has not been fully successful.

“Welcome move”

Many elected representatives and residents welcomed the move to extend the ban on plastics to cover more locations. They wanted the Chennai Corporation to implement it stringently for a litter-free city.

Some recalled how three decades ago, when plastic was not a commonly used for packaging, they used cloth bags for groceries and vegetables, and ‘Thaiyal ilai' (leaves stitched together) for meat.

P. Rajini, a resident of Ashok Nagar, said, “When I was young, the shopkeepers used to pack groceries in paper and I would carry a basket from home. Now, everything comes in plastic packaging material.”

Lakshmi Narayanan, a resident of West Mambalam, said, “I use a thick cotton bag to carry vegetables and groceries as I don't have to worry about the weight of the materials. I use those small plastic bags that they give in retail shops to store vegetables in the fridge.”

Alternatives

Environmental activists said bags made of jute and cloth were alternatives to plastic bags. Kurian Joseph, associate professor, Centre for Environmental Studies, Anna University, said disposable plastic is a problem and its recycling value is lost as there is no economic incentive. On the other hand, if it is thicker, people would have to pay for it and the collectors would also be interested to sell them for recycling.

Burning certain types of plastic such as polyvinyl chloride plastic could release dioxin, which may seriously impact environment and health, he said.

Meanwhile, manufacturers of plastic products want the State government to notify the rules that are stipulated by the Union government. B. Swaminathan, member of Indian Centre for Plastics in the Environment, said the rules are applicable to plastic bags alone.

The government must formulate a uniform rule across the State and constitute a monitoring authority to check production of bags less than 20 micron thickness. Pointing to the Centre's recent notification in Plastic Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2011, he said that the thickness of plastic bags must not be below 40 microns. The Corporation must also take measures to reduce inert material, which forms 35 per cent of the garbage generated, Mr. Swaminathan added.

Local bodies

Following the Chennai Corporation's efforts to make the Marina plastic-free, some local bodies in the southern suburbs of Chennai also initiated awareness programmes. A few town panchayats adopted resolutions allowing the administration to penalise violators. In March 2009, the Alandur Municipality launched an intensive campaign against the use of plastic.

The administration was unable to sustain the momentum.

Mangalam Balasubramanian of Exnora Green Pammal, said many local bodies in the suburbs were yet to understand the significance of the Ministry of Environment and Forest's notification on the minimum thickness of plastic bags.

There has been a successful experiment on a small scale with the use of plastic bags made from cellulose in Panipat, Haryana, but cost wise, they were prohibitive, Ms. Balasubramanian said.

(With inputs from Aloysius Xavier Lopez, K. Lakshmi, K. Manikandan and Liffy Thomas)

What they say

A. Narayanan, Environment activist and Editor of Paadam: “The thin carry bags and disposable items dumped into sewer lines and storm water drains lead to overflow. The Chennai Corporation’s move would only prevent visual pollution. Large amount of plastic wet waste is generated through packaging of food in restaurants and roadside eateries. Hazardous chemicals and metal oxides may leak into the foodstuff, posing health risks. Plastic bags up to 60 microns have to be banned, as recycling and incineration is possible only with such thickness. The need of the hour is a stringent policy in regard to environmental pollution and littering.”

Mayor M.Subramanian: “The Chennai Corporation will create awareness among people who visit the locations and will take action on those who violate the ban on plastics. This is a step towards a cleaner Chennai. Vendors of plastic bags are asked to stop selling or distributing plastic bags in areas where plastic will be banned after the notification. The plastic ban proposed by the Chennai Corporation will be successful if visitors to parks and tourist places avoid the use of plastics.”

Shraddha Dayal, professional: “I am new to the city but is upsetting to see that source segregation is not taken seriously even at an individual level. It is not followed by the conservancy agency even if one were to take the pains. In Mumbai, from where I come, there are housing societies that ask you to segregate the degradable and biodegradable waste and the waste is disposed off accordingly. It is well implemented and even in shopping malls you have special provisions to throw litter. More awareness needs to be created .”

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