Lathakumari (name changed), a vegetable vendor in Bommanahalli continues to use single-use plastic (SUP) covers to pack vegetables for her customers, like many years before, despite a nationwide ban on the same since July 1. Most of her customers are not aware of the ban and not ready to spend on alternatives like cloth or paper bags.
Lathakumari says that she hides the SUP covers whenever BBMP marshals come on rounds to check the use of SUP. She only gives the plastic cover for the customers who don't bring their own carry bags. “We don't want our customers to be unhappy when we say bring your own bag, hence we still give the SUP since the other alternatives like cloth bags or paper bags are costly, we cannot afford that, neither our customers,” she said. So far ever since the ban of SUP, the BBMP has imposed a fine of ₹59,600 and seized 93.5 kg of plastic in eight zones of the city.
The ban was somewhat effective at larger commercial establishments in the city where the owners decided to switch to paper bags, but at the ground level, from neighbourhood vegetable vendors to grocery shops, nobody could cut down on the use of cheap and easily available plastic bags in the city.
BBMP officials say that they have been at enforcement for nearly five years. A senior BBMP official said that zonal teams are visiting commercial areas during the weekends and carrying out drives. “We have constituted teams and they have been collecting information and penalising offenders while also creating awareness in the city,” officials said.
The ban and the fine
From plastic carry bags, cutlery, and banners, to wrapping films, several items are banned. The medical sector gets an exemption from this rule.
The implementation is taking place under Rules 4(c), 4(d) of the Plastic Waste Management (Amendment) Rules, 2021 and if the banned items are used, they will be seized and the production units will be closed with penalties. Retailers and street vendors selling these products will be fined ₹200 for the first time, and ₹500, ₹1,000 for the subsequent two offences. For manufacturers, the first violation is fined at ₹2,000, the second violation at ₹5,000 and the third violation at ₹10,000. Further, producers, as per Rule 4 (c) of the rules, will be fined ₹5,000, ₹10,000, and ₹20,000 for the first, second, and third offences, respectively.
“The use of SUP is completely banned and the BBMP is creating awareness among vendors and citizens to use reusable cloth bags and paper bags. As part of implementing the ban, the marshals are conducting surprise raids at shops, hotels, street vendors, manufacturing units and seizing the banned plastic items,” Mr. Rajbir Singh said.
The Central Pollution Control Board in its order dated June 30 had stated, “The manufacture, import, stocking, distribution, sale and use of the following single-use plastic, including polystyrene and expanded polystyrene, commodities shall be prohibited with effect from the 1st of July, 2022.”
What vendors, hawkers say
Despite Karnataka being the first State in the nation to ban single-use plastic in 2016 with the Plastic Waste Management Rules, the SUP menace continues unchecked due to the lack of awareness among vendors, shopkeepers and customers.
There is little awareness of the ban. K.R. Market being one of the biggest markets in Bengaluru, it alone uses large quantities of plastic bags. “I use plastic bags for packaging because it is convenient. Especially for flowers, I cannot pack them in paper or cloth bags because they are wet flowers,” said P. Kumar, a flower vendor at K.R. Market.
Another vendor says the SUP is cheaper than other alternatives, "To be honest, plastic bags are cheaper than paper bags. Paper bags are ₹5 while plastic bags are ₹10. I am fine with cloth bags as well, but whichever is cheaper is what I go for," said another vendor at K.R. Market. “These bans keep coming and going from the last few years, but it’s true now the BBMP is checking all of us. We spend money to buy paper bags and then after a few days, no one will care about it, even the civic body and plastic covers will continue to be used by all,” said Manohar, a fruit seller in BTM Layout.
Tender coconut sellers, whose businesses primarily depend on plastic straws, think that the alternative paper straw is not working out for them at all. “Not only are they costly, they also get soggy easily,” said Prasad, a seller in Bannerghatta road, adding that he does not have a choice now because of the ban, he has found an alternative but not working well. Around 253 million plastic straws are being used in Bengaluru alone every year, according to KSPCB.
Lack of awareness
Many customers are not aware of the SUP ban and continue to use it. Mr Rajbir Singh said, "The first step to preventing single-use plastic is ample awareness which includes the public getting the news of the seizing of plastic through the word of mouth, along with announcements made in market places, and railway stations usually. Another step is to check the supply through the city.”
Meanwhile, a few vendors have found alternative methods to pack their products. "We use brown paper bags and handmade embroidered bags in which we pack our products", said Rauf Jan, a manufacturer and exporter of handicrafts & jewellery in Shivajinagar.
Since the 2016 ban, 112 plastic units in the State have been issued Notice of Proposed Direction’s (NPD) for manufacture of the banned items. Another 35 units had committed violations under Section 5 of the Act and 104 units have been issued closure direction and 35 Units (around nine in Ballari and three in Mysuru) have had criminal cases filed against them. Despite stringent measures by the KSPCB, the inflow of SUP from neighbouring States continues, said Shanth A. Thimmaiah, chairman, KSPCB.
The KPSCB has asked civic bodies across the State to take the help of self-help groups, non-governmental organisations and volunteers to take up a large-scale awareness campaign regarding ban on SUP. "There is a need for preventing the production of single-use plastic itself and then, at the level of transportation and use. And, after the ban it is also the responsibility of every citizen to ensure the implementation of the order,” he said.
Unlike thicker and denser plastic material, SUP objects being light and flexible are less amenable to being recycled. While 99% of plastic is recycled, they constitute heavier plastics that are likely to be collected by ragpickers and plastic waste recyclers.
Single-use plastics do not provide an incentive enough for the effort needed to collect them and hence they lie around, leach their toxins into the soil and cause environmental damage in both land and sea.
Thimmaiah said that SUP has been a major cause of pollution on earth, there is a need for creating extensive awareness on stopping its use. "Plastic was introduced as an alternative to depleting forest resources in 1907, but subsequently, on realising its detrimental effects, the nation in 1999 introduced the Recycled Plastic Manufacture and Usage Rules in an effort to curb plastic pollution," Mr. Thimmaiah said.
(Inputs by Vibha Rao and Shuvam Roy)