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Dealing with the plastic menace with firm hand

Fruit sold in plastic bag by a local vendor

With the implementation of the ban on plastic bags below 50 microns in Panjim and other towns, a check into the dynamics of the local plastic business, by Shoma Patnaik

A thing that is widely present in the market and for a considerable period of time is the plastic bag. Usually in blue or pink and sometimes white colour the plastic bag is become almost synonymous with shopping.

In Panjim market, the wafer thin bags are everywhere. Vendors, big and small, grocery stores, etc., have generous quantities of it in stock. They give plastic bags freely to customers to make a sale. The fish and meat market is especially the place for the bags. Consumers demand it from the fisherwomen to separate the fish from other purchases. With the result that it is difficult to spot a shopper without fingers clutched around a bag.

The wafer thin bags pose a major threat to the environment because of its non-disposability and the effort is on to stop its usage. To be sure, the widespread use of plastic carry bags for daily shopping is not only in Goa. It is a national trend that many state governments are trying their best to end.

In Goa, the government has decided to implement the Plastic Waste Management Rules 2016 that ban plastic bags below 50 microns.  Initially the rules are in force in Panjim and Margao municipal markets from April 1 2018, before it is extended throughout the state from May 30 2018.

Ground level check in Panjim market, reveals that, most of the fruit, vegetable vendors and the scores of small shops owners in the market are aware of the ban. They are ready for compliance as they have replaced plastic bags with larger and thicker, cloth bags. The substitute bags will not be given free and customers will have to pay for it, said vendors.

Fruit vendor, Rajan Naik,, said that ban on plastic bags is likely to work in the fruit, vegetable and fish market as the Corporation of the City of Panaji (CCP) is imposed a steep registration fee of Rs 4,000 per month for using any kind of plastic bags.

“The registration fee works out to Rs 48,000 which we cannot afford so it is better to stop using plastic altogether,” says Naik. He says that, most vendors are currently using paper to wrap but paper could be a problem if a customer purchases a large quantity of fruit. Other vendors in vicinity said that they had no objections with doing away with plastic. But they wondered why the government did not crack down on the manufacturers or the sellers who supply large quantities of plastic each day from across the border. The consignment arrives from nearby localities of Banda, Hubli and Kolhapur and the sale is by weight or packet. Each packet containing about 25 bags is purchased at Rs 30 by local vendors.

According to Parag Joshi, managing partner, Jutex and former chairman, CII- Goa, the implementation of the ban rule is making the local plastic bag manufacturing industry jittery. “Plastic is ideal packaging material but manufacturing it is become like a stigma,” he says. Joshi points out that the substitute for plastic is paper which requires cutting down of trees for production. “The rap is always on plastic although paper as a material is equally damaging to the environment,” says Joshi.

The local industry comprises 10-12 units that manufacture bags of different sizes and varieties. All the units are owned by Goans and they provide livelihood to about 300 people, says Joshi. He says that plastic bags below 50 microns are not made in Goa as it requires special skill and a particular type of equipment. “The ultra-thin bags are just dumped by unscrupulous suppliers,” says Joshi.

He adds that, there is no check on the vans transporting banned plastics and nobody knows the quantity of plastic that arrive each day. “But we are sure that the quantity being imported is substantial and more than what is produced jointly by all the local units,” he says.

Joshi, points out that the state needs to tighten the screw on non-biodegradable plastic coming through the borders. “The problem of plastic is not about the product. It is the failure of government machinery in enforcing rules.”

He says that, the local plastic manufacturers are keen to clear their name and distance themselves from banned plastic coming into the state. He explains that, if plastic carry bags are being banned then the usage of all plastic material needs to be stopped, including the milk bags. Joshi says, that local bag manufacturing units are registered with the Goa State Pollution Control Board and produce goods that are environmentally certified. “Local plastic units must not be lumped with outside units manufacturing bags below 50 microns,” says Joshi.

Goa’s implementation of plastic waste management rules is delayed

The new, central, Plastic Waste Management Rules 2016 was notified in March 2016, replacing the earlier ones made five years ago. The new rules are more stringent than the previous rules and were to be implemented within six months.

Under the new rules, carrying certain dos and don’ts for manufacturers, distributors, municipal bodies and panchayats, the government banned the manufacturing of plastic bags of below 50 microns as thinner bags currently pose a major threat to the environment. The rules say that, manufacturers of plastic bags will have to make certain payments to states for its post-use disposal. The money, collected from the manufacturers, is to be given to local civic bodies and panchayats for taking multiple measures to dispose off plastic bags properly.

“Rural areas have also been brought in the ambit of these rules since plastic has reached to villages. Responsibility for implementation of the rules is given to the gram panchayats. The rules have introduced responsibility of waste generator for the first time. Accordingly, individual and bulk generators like offices, commercial establishments and industries are to segregate the plastic waste at source, handover segregated waste and pay user fee as per bye-laws of the local bodies”.

Under the new law, persons or organizations, including even the political parties, have been made responsible for management of waste generated from the events such as, political rallies, marriage function, religious gathering or public meetings  organised by them. Under the new rules, plastic carry bags will be available only with shopkeepers, street vendors who are pre-registered with local bodies, on payment of certain registration fee. The amount collected as registration fee by the local bodies is to be used for waste management.

The ban on plastic bags is a beginning but it has its limitations. Right now we are talking of only carry bags but carry bags is only part of the problem. The bigger problem is of consumption of plastic by consumers directly due to pre-packaging of material. In supermarkets, the goods are already wrapped in plastics. So the bigger problem is how to deal with pre-packaged goods. As a consumer body we are trying to take the campaign against pre-packaged goods separately. What is necessary is extracted producer responsibility (EPR) something like extended producer responsibility (EPR) in e-waste. EPR in plastic waste means that packers should be willing to take back the plastic. Majority of the consumers go to supermarkets which pack groceries in plastic bags. We are advocating that supermarkets have small bins for consumers to return the bags. The other thing is promote cloth bags. Consumers have to be given an alternative to plastic. Also Goan business houses, cashew sellers, local retail industry has to take the lead and accept its own bags. The journey in controlling plastic waste is long, but it needs to be started.”

Roland Martins, convenor, Goa Can, consumer group

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