India bans 19 single-use plastic items to combat pollution

Ban includes plastic straws, disposable cutlery, earbuds, candy and ice cream packaging, and cigarette packets.

An Indian worker sorts used plastic bottles before sending them to be recycled, at a railway station on World Environment Day in Ahmadabad, India in 2018 [Ajit Solanki/AP]
An Indian worker sorts used plastic bottles before sending them to be recycled in Ahmadabad, India in 2018 [File: Ajit Solanki/AP]

India has imposed a ban on single-use plastics on items ranging from straws to cigarette packets to combat worsening pollution in the nation of nearly 1.4 billion people.

The ban on single-use plastic items includes straws, cutlery, earbuds, packaging films, plastic sticks for balloons, candy and ice cream, and cigarette packets, among other products, the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a statement on Friday.

For the first stage, the government has identified 19 plastic items that it said are not very useful but have a high potential to become litter and the new ban makes it illegal to produce, import, stock, distribute or sell them.

Some disposable plastic bags will also be phased out and replaced with thicker ones to encourage re-use.

Plastic manufacturers had appealed to the government to delay the ban, citing inflation and potential job losses.

India’s federal environment minister Bhupender Yadav said at a news briefing in New Delhi on Friday that the ban had been in the pipeline for a year.

“Now, that time is up,” he said.

Plastic waste has become a significant source of pollution in India, the world’s second-most populous country, and rapid economic growth has fuelled demand for goods that come with single-use plastic products, such as straws and disposable cutlery.

Thousands of other plastic products – such as plastic bottles – are not covered by the ban. But the federal government has set targets for manufacturers to be responsible for recycling or disposing of them after their use.

This is not the first time that India has considered a plastic ban. But previous iterations have focused on specific regions in the country, resulting in varying degrees of success.

Satyarupa Shekhar, the Asia-Pacific coordinator of the advocacy group Break Free from Plastic, said a nationwide ban that includes not just the use of plastic, but also its production or importation was a “definite boost”.

India, which uses about 14 million tonnes of plastic annually, lacks an organised system for managing plastic waste, leading to widespread littering.

Streets across India’s towns and cities are littered with used plastic goods that eventually choke drains, rivers and oceans and also kill animals.

Firms such as PepsiCo, Coca-Cola Co, India’s Parle Agro, Dabur and Amul had lobbied for straws to be exempted from the ban. Other than the food and beverage and consumer goods companies, plastic manufacturers had also complained about the ban that they say did not give them adequate time to prepare for the restriction.

Some experts believed that enforcing the ban might be difficult.

Ravi Agarwal, the director of Toxics Link, a New Delhi-based advocacy group that focuses on waste management, said that the ban was “a good beginning”, but its success will depend on how well it is implemented.

The government has decided to set up control rooms to check any illegal use, sale and distribution of single-use plastic products. But the actual enforcement of the law will be in the hands of individual states and city municipal bodies.

According to the United Nations, plastic waste is at epidemic proportions in the world’s oceans, with an estimated 100 million tonnes dumped there. Scientists have found large amounts of microplastic in the intestines of deep-dwelling ocean mammals like whales.

Source: News Agencies