Single-use plastics are still in widespread use in Chennai three years after the Tamil Nadu government ordered a ban on the manufacture, sale, and usage of plastic and polystyrene commodities.
Street vendors and small eateries have been bearing the brunt of the ban, as they find alternative packaging products to be too expensive. “One pack of 100 plastic straws used to cost ₹30 but a pack of 80 paper straws costs nearly ₹45,” said Selvam, a tender coconut vendor at Valasaravakkam. Mr. Selvam said since paper straws are not as sturdy as plastic, some customers, especially children, ask for an extra one. “We can’t deny them an extra straw, so who is at loss here,” he asked.
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Alternatives not economical
Fifty recyclable carry bags cost ₹120, which is almost triple the cost of plastic carry bags, said a fruit seller on N.S.C. Bose Road, adding that paying a fine once a while was more economical than stocking recyclable bags. Bhoopathi, a wholesaler selling packaging products, said sales have gone down as people don’t buy as many alternative products because of the high price. “A pack of 80 plastic cups used to sell for ₹75 while 100 pieces of the paper alternative cost ₹220,” he said.
Revathi, another fruit trader, said most people do not carry cloth bags while coming to the market. Some customers pass by the market while on their way to other work so they don’t come prepared to shop, she explained. “Only about 10 in 100 people have cloth bags; most ask us for covers. It’s a loss for us if we don’t stock carry bags,” she said.
R. Kannan, Member Secretary, Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB), said the costs of the alternative products will come down only when the scale of usage increases. Or, he said, small-scale companies manufacturing recyclable products have to be given some sort of a subsidy so they can increase production, which might reduce the selling price. Mr. Kannan said local bodies play a vital role in enforcement of the ban and have the capacity to track the source of plastic products.
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‘Plastic manufacturers being shut down’
Mr. Kannan said out of nearly 180 plastic manufacturing factories shut down across the State so far, around 80 of these shut downs took place in 2022. “We suspect plastic products are coming in from other States and Puducherry,” he said.
To implement the ‘Meendum Manjappai’ (yellow cloth bag) programme better, the TNPCB recently got the initiative reviewed by a third-party evaluator. The report made by the CPR Environmental Education Centre will soon be uploaded on the board’s website, said M. Jayanthi, chairperson, TNPCB. As part of the manjappai initiative, five cloth bags dispensers and two plastic bottle crushing machines were installed at the Madras High Court. “They are mostly unused and are gathering dust,” said an advocate at the court.