Plastic prevails

THE CORPORATION, in a meeting last month, decided to ban the manufacture and sale of carry-bags and other plastic products with a thickness of 20 microns or less, with effect from November 1. But a month later, it hardly seems to have moved into active mode. Only one seizure in Manacaud circle, almost a fortnight ago, has been reported.

The Corporation secretary, Venugopal, when contacted, said the campaign was in its first phase and it involved spreading awareness about the harmful effects of plastic among the users. "Besides a public notice, we have made announcements and advertised in the media to spread the word. A meeting of health inspectors was called and they have been told to strictly enforce the ban. Warning would be issued first and in case of non-compliance, a notice for cancellation of licenses would be served."

But the ground reality is different. Previous efforts by the Corporation to restrict the use of plastics were largely ineffective due to poor enforcement. Things seem set to go the same way this time around, unless the Corporation tightens its belt.

The situation in all 20-health circles seems to be uniformly dissatisfactory. When contacted, a health inspector said he was yet to begin checks in his circle in this regard. Another health circle inspector said though the order had been issued at the beginning of the month, formal training was provided to them only a few days ago. "We hadn't taken any steps till then for we were hardly aware of the procedure. Even if the retailers are guilty of stocking upon carry-bags of less than 20 microns, they simply hide it. It is easier to keep a check on wholesalers, but there are hardly any here," he said.

The health inspector said since the order had been introduced for the first time recently, shopkeepers were only being warned against using plastic carry-bags of less than 20 microns. "If they still don't toe the line, either a fine of Rs. 2,000 to Rs. 5,000 will be imposed or their license cancelled."

On whether the first seizure had been followed by any other, an inspector said they had called a halt to similar steps for the time being. "We are conducting checks and issuing warnings whenever possible in between our other work."

Venugopal, however, denies that things haven't seen an improvement. "Some effect of the ban is being felt. Shopkeepers have started saying `no' to these plastic bags. Customers too are looking for other alternatives. We do not want to give the people an opportunity to say they were not aware of the decision and are taking measures by way of propaganda."

But while his intent cannot be faulted with, its implementation leaves much to be desired. The impetus necessary to accelerate the movement is missing, especially at the level of health inspectors.

"Penal action alone cannot result in enforcement. In this case, voluntary compliance is being stressed. The traders, too, have requested for a period of respite in view of the ban coming into force only this month. We feel, instead of pulling up all offenders, action against one or two will send the right message."

He said the measures adopted in this drive against plastic would be reviewed in a meeting of health inspectors this week and further strategy deliberated upon.

Critics are also crying foul over the decision.

Experts say rather than a ban on plastic, a ban on additives used while processing plastics for recycling is necessary to control environment damage. They also claim the discussion on the thickness of plastic bags is unnecessary as thickness did not directly contribute to the pollution.

Plastic manufacturers claim, though not produced here, similar bags made in other States where the decision of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, on September 2, 1999, is not being strictly implemented, find their way here, affecting their business.

The Kerala State Pollution Control Board chairman, Paul Thachil, said the local administration needed to focus on the solid waste management disposal system. "Carrybags and other products after recycling can be used in electrical conduits and the like. But those less than 20 microns do not yield anything on recycling and are therefore, not picked up for disposal. These don't disintegrate and either block the soil, preventing it from breathing, or find their way into water bodies or are burnt, resulting in air pollution. Even the Vilappilsala garbage plant has not found the means to dispose the plastic heaped up there."

Meanwhile, a draft prepared by the State Pollution Control Board to ban plastic carrybags less than 100 microns is under the consideration of the local administration.

"Carrybags of 100 microns are thicker, look better and can be used again and again, unlike the thin carrybags that are use and throw kinds," says Mr. Thachil.

Kerala has the highest per capita consumption of plastic in the country and the State capital itself generates almost two tonnes of plastic every day.


Photo: A. J. Joji