Ban and beyond

In India, the Union government banned the use and manufacture of coloured plastic bags less than 20 microns thick for carrying foodstuffs in 1999 under the Recycled Plastics Manufacture and Usage Rules. Several state governments have also enforced the rule. While Himachal Pradesh showed the way by enforcing the law even before it became a central regulation, West Bengal and Tripura have disallowed the use of polybags recently.

Unfortunately, the ban now exists only on paper because the infrastructure is grossly inadequate to test each and every bag's thickness. The result is that despite various states stipulating stringent punishment such as a six-month jail term, snapping of power supply of industries and closure of business establishments for non-compliance, thin polybags are still in circulation.

The mounting problem of solid waste disposal in the country has forced the Union ministry of environment and forests (MEF) to set up the Ranganath Misra committee. The panel was established in July 2001 and its term has been extended till February 2002. The 13-member committee is headed by Justice Ranganath Misra, comprising mainly government and industry representatives. It does not include any non-governmental organisation's (NGO) member. "We cannot ask for a better person than Justice Misra to deal with such a contentious issue, but keeping in mind the plastic industry's pressures, the committee will find it difficult to look at a comprehensive plastic waste management policy," says Ravi Aggarwal, coordinator of Srishti, a Delhi-based NGO.

Apart from looking at the issues of technology, awareness, buy-back schemes and legislations, the panel is also expected to look for a solution to the plastic carry bag menace, reveals A B Akolkar, senior scientist at Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), New Delhi. In its latest meeting on January 15, 2002, a rough draft of the recommendations is said to have been prepared. Some issues that are reportedly being discussed include:
Amending the Recycled Plastics Manufacture and Usage Rules,1999

Coming out with a packaging directive wherein the industry will be regulated by a packaging policy

Enforcing the buyback option, making it mandatory for the industry to take back PET bottles, etc, and recycle them

Upgrading the recycling process

The plastic industry is of the view that the problem with polybags is that of littering and not their plastic content. It believes that the solution lies in putting in place anti-littering devices. But NGOs feel that nothing less than a holistic plastic waste management policy will suffice.

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