How Tamil Nadu is gearing up to bid plastic adieu

Come January 2019 and Tamil Nadu will begin its journey to going plastic-free. The government proposes to ban plastic carrybags, plates, cups, flags and sachets used for packaging water, among other items. Exceptions will be made for disposable plastic used for packaging milk, curd, oil and medical items. With the ban less than six months away, various sectors in the State have begun to come up with solutions. A look at some of the initiatives, by no means exhaustive, that are afoot in the State

July 22, 2018 12:20 am | Updated 01:23 pm IST

In Kancheepuram, the district administration has decided to step in long before January. It has declared that anyone who dispenses one-time use-and-throw plastic products in the district will attract penal action from August 16. It will also actively encourage people and business communities to use bio-degradable products as an alternative to use-and-throw products, through awareness-building measures.

The Salem Corporation has gone a step ahead, enforcing a ban on single-use plastic from August 1 in three bus termini in the city. It has also reportedly directed Central and State government officials, government hospitals and urban primary health centres, and educational institutions functioning in city limits not to use plastic bags and other unnecessary plastic articles from July 1.

According to R. Sadheesh, Corporation Commissioner, the civic body has already conducted a demonstration of bags made of tapioca starch, which disintegrate on their own within 90 days.

Everyday, over 600 tonnes of non-recyclable plastic is used as fuel by four cement plants in the State. The process is called ‘co-processing’ and was suggested nearly 10 years ago. At that time, a few cement plants tried it out for a few months and then stopped. Now, some cement companies have tied up with nearby municipalities for collecting the waste, which helps reduce use of coal in their kilns. Since such non-recyclable non-reusable municipal waste is burnt at high temperatures, no toxins are released. In the last four months, the plants have reportedly used 10,000 tonnes of plastic as fuel.

The Coimbatore Corporation, through its Smart City arm, Coimbatore Smart City Limited, has taken up several initiatives to promote alternatives to plastics. “It started with the 'My Shopping, My Bag' campaign more than a year ago, where the civic body in association with NGOs approached commercial establishments to switch over to paper or cloth bags. The campaign also encouraged people to carry their own bags while shopping,” said Commissioner K. Vijayakarthikeyan.

The Corporation approached hoteliers asking them to choose eco-friendly alternatives, and two big Coimbatore establishments – one, a popular chain of sweet shops and, second, a chain of restaurants – immediately complied, using alternative packing materials. The civic body also joined hands with a women's collective, 'Wonder Women', in promoting use of cloth bags, and followed it up by setting up a kiosk in the town hall to promote alternatives to plastic. The kiosk now sells paper straws, bamboo toothbrushes, cloth bags and a few more items.

The Forest Department in Coimbatore has rolled out a ban on disposable plastic products at eco-tourism spots. At Kovai Courtallam, a popular tourist spot near Siruvani, visitors are not allowed to carry plastic carrybags and disposable water bottles. Pooluvampatti Forest Range Officer C. Palaniraja said that a special cleaning drive is conducted every Monday to keep areas around the waterfall clear of plastic. Similarly, a plastic ban is strictly enforced at the eco-tourism centre at Mulli near Karamadai. T. Saravanan, Forest Range Officer of Karamadai forest range, said that use of disposable plastic products is almost zero at the tourist spot. "We use plates made of areca palm leaf to serve food," he said.


Organisations in the international township of Auroville near Puducherry have been working to provide cost-effective alternatives to plastic carrybags. Small Steps, an initiative funded by the Upasana Design Studio, is one such unit which has been persuading locals to switch from disposable plastic bags to reusable shopping bags. The Small Steps project was launched on Earth Day, April 22, 2007. "It is not only about replacing plastic bags. It is also about changing ourselves, learning new values, taking responsibility, loving our mother earth, thus making for a better world. It is our love in action," said Vidhi Bhargav, coordinator of Small Steps. Atmasanga, a non-profit organisation that also operates within Auroville Trust, has also taken up the task of reducing plastic bag pollution. Realising the need to make available a viable alternative to plastic, Atmasanga started supplying cotton bags to retail shops. The initiative started four-and-a-half years ago.

In Madurai, the district administration has already begun large-scale production of cloth bags, in association with women’s self-help groups. The Collector says that the plastic ban will be a great means to encourage small businesses making sustainable products. “If manufacturers are interested, they can get in touch with the administration. We can help them tie up with different schemes and provide subsidies, creating mutual growth and environmental equity,” he adds.

Jackfruit fibre plates developed by the Indian Institute of Food Processing Technology in Thanjavur, a national-level research institution, offers an edible alternative to the plastic cups and plates for serving dessert. The institute recently unveiled its offerings of edible cutlery that have the consistency and rigidity to hold salads, dessert and chocolates. “The plate may not be strong enough to hold heavy food items, but is ideal for serving dessert. It is environment friendly as it can be consumed along with the dessert,” says C. Anandharamakrishnan, Director of the institute. The institute has developed the plates and also cones from jackfruit byproducts that have high dietary fibre. The cutlery and cones were developed using flour made of jackfruit bulbs andseeds. The institute is set to transfer the technology soon for commercial production.

The problem with plastic is not its use but its disposal, says R. Vasudevan, Dean, Thiagarajar College of Engineering, Madurai, whose team has come up with sustainable solutions for safe disposal of plastic waste. One such is a patented technology to facilitate in situ use of plastic waste in road construction. Aggregate is coated with plastic before mixing it with bitumen while constructing a road. This has enhanced durability of the road and reduced cost. Women’s self-help groups are involved in collection of waste plastic and shredding it for use in road construction. This technology has been applied in road construction across the country, especially in rural areas.

The other major invention, named plastone, is a sturdy material created with plastic and other materials like debris, ceramic and granite waste, and can be used for lining waterways, rail sleepers, portable speed breakers and bricks, and in construction of pathways and walls. Plastone is now used in the construction of walls for low-cost toilets. Plastone slabs can be made according to the desired shape and colour.

Thousands of kilometres of roads constructed with this technology have lasted longer than normal roads. Fifty tonnes of waste plastic is used for laying one kilometre of road. In the case of plastone, which is called synthetic granite, 1.5 kg of waste plastic (15 PET bottles) goes into the making a tile measuring one squarefoot, with a thickness of one inch.

Many pubs in Chennai have already migrated to innovative options. Boats in Beasant Nagar and Thirsty Crow at Nungambakkam have replaced plastic straws with paper straws. Arasu Dennis, Managing Director of AD Associates, the company behind several pubs in Chennai, said, “Except for the straws we hardly use any other plastic in pubs (its all glass). In one of the pubs – Off the Record’-- we are using stainless steel straws. We sterilise the straw and use it,” he said.

Inputs from V. Venkatasubramanian, Syed Muthahar Saqaf, Deepa H. Ramakrishnan, Karthik Madhavan,Wilson Thomas, S. Prasad, Sanjana Ganesh, S. Ganesan, Sangeetha Kandavel

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