Thin covers, black bags, woven bags that look like cloth. Ubiquitous plastic bags in all their many avatars have flooded the city despite the ban.
Solid waste management volunteers claim that the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) and the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) have eased their enforcement drive, thereby emboldening vendors.
BBMP’s Joint Commissioner (Solid Waste Management and Health) Sarfaraz Khan admitted that plastic usage had increased, and attributed slackening of checks and raids to election duty of officials.
“With many health inspectors assigned election duty, it is true that enforcement has been slow,” he said. “Plastic usage is more at the lower levels, such as street vendors, small traders and retailers. This is mainly due to lack of awareness and lack of alternatives,” he said.
Last year, the BBMP seized over 1,000 tonnes of plastic and levied fines amounting to over ₹1.8 crore. After the State government banned plastic in March 2016, efforts were made to encourage people to switch to alternatives like cloth bags, and reusing single-use bags.
Many manufacturing units were also raided and shut down. “However, despite the efforts, plastic is back. Over the past three months, enforcement has been low, as BBMP officials are busy with election duty,” said Smitha Kulkarni, a waste activist.
The BBMP, along with EMPRI (Environmental Management and Policy Research Institute), is now planning awareness workshops for street vendors, marriage hall owners, small traders and retailers in each Assembly constituency.
Thin plastic carry bags and other low-grade varieties cannot be recycled, only burnt. “There is no solution to the low-grade or low-value plastic, apart from being sent to cement kilns. The same goes for multi-layered plastics, such as chips packet covers. Unless there are measures put in place to ensure EPR (extended producer responsibility), the situation is not going to improve,” said Rajesh Babu from Swachcha Eco Solutions Pvt. Ltd., which collects waste plastic from BBMP’s dry waste collection centres and goods seized by the civic body and recycles them to manufacture agri pipes.
Use in road laying
The State government has made it mandatory to mix plastic with bitumen while laying roads, but that has not stopped the flow of plastic into landfills. According to the government order, plastic should be mixed with the bitumen used to lay the roads. “Even the Indian Road Congress has stated that this will extend the longevity of the road. The Public Works Department has also included plastic in the Schedule of Rates, based on which project estimates are prepared,” said a senior official in the BBMP’s engineering department.