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Saying goodbye to Plastic bags

As the ‘Plastic-free Goa’ mission is underway, several vendors and customers across the state are seeking ways to avoid using plastic bags less than 50 microns. NT BUZZ speaks to a few vendors, customers and experts to find out about alternatives to plastic bags
VENITA GOMES I NT BUZZ

Have we ever thought about how much better would it be if every customer would carry a cloth, paper or jute bag while shopping rather than depending on plastic carry bags? Well! It would indeed make a big difference. Not only would we be contributing our bit to preserving the environment as plastic takes several years to degrade, but the ongoing garbage menace would be a little lesser to deal with.
However, we have become tardy to think of options, and conveniently rely on vendors to give us a bag with our purchases. While many stores and supermarkets don’t give plastic bags, customers are willing to pay `10, `20 or even more for a plastic bag, depending on the size available.
The Ban is on!
Recently, the government has announced that plastic bags below 50 microns are banned in the state and every offender will attract a penalty of `5,000 as per Rule 15 of the Plastic Waste (Management and Handling) Rules 2016 and confiscation of plastic bags if the seller is not registered. However, in order to continue using, selling or dispensing plastic bags vendors are required to register themselves by paying a monthly fee of `4,000 or an annual fee of `48,000. The government aims at making Goa plastic-free by May 30, and though this seems a herculean task, the onus lies on every individual to make this much needed environment friendly dream a reality.
The market scene
To see how effective the implementation of this ban is in the state NT BUZZ tracked a few market places across Goa and not surprisingly found that there was a sizeable number of vendors and outlets still using plastic bags for groceries and other consumer products. They were also those who have completely stopped the use of polythene bags and have opted for newspapers and cloth bags.
Fish vendors in Panaji market are implementing use of old newspaper and 51 micron plastic bags. While it’s a good start, the ink on the newspapers could also pose a health hazard. Fish vendor Savita Naik (name changed) says that there is no other option. “We have started using newspaper as the CCP (Corporation of the City of Panaji) has banned use of plastic. We don’t have any solution because we can’t keep giving cloth bags all the time. If people start carrying their own cloth bags for various market uses then it becomes easy for us too,” she says. There are a few who complain that they are losing out on customers when they deny giving them the fish in plastic bags.
In Mapusa it was observed that fish vendors aren’t hesitant to put fish in flimsy polythene bags. Neither were people objecting to the use of it, nor did they seem to fear or even know of the ban.
Appreciating the government for taking up this issue seriously, vegetable vendor in Margao, Samir Priolker says that banning plastic bags is a good initiative taken by the government. He says: “The Government has banned plastic for the good of the environment. I am using bags above 50 microns which are allowed. Some of my customers bring their own bags. For those who ask for carry bags, I charge them `2 per bag. I feel the banning of plastic bags is a good decision because people throw them everywhere causing pollution.” He also says that fines should be imposed first on wholesalers of plastic bags.
Food items such as meat, eggs, sugar, pulses, etc, are difficult to be packaged in newspaper therefore a few shopkeepers are confused about a solution to this problem. “We have not yet decided how to go about with the ban. Though we are packing items in the newspaper, there are still many food items like sugar, wheat, flour and pulses that can’t be packed in a newspaper. So, for now it’s only plastic that we are using. We still have time to think whether to use or not,” says Panaji-based vendor Vandana Salkar (name changed).
There is still a lack of knowledge or vendors claim innocence and justify about not being informed by authorities of the ban. They were selling their products in plastic bags. “We have not been informed about any such ban, therefore, we are continuing with the use of plastic carry bags. Until we get a notice we will carry on,” says a meat vendor in the Panaji.
People’s attitude towards the ban
In the Mapusa market, Antonette D’Souza of the famed Pascoal Bakery told us that people aren’t bothered about the ban. “They shamelessly ask for plastic bags and when we tell them that there is a ban on use of plastic, they ask us if they’re supposed to hold the sweets open in their hands, or should they get plates from home,” she says.
A customer, Neeta Vernekar from Santa Cruz says that people should be more considerate towards the environment and avoid the use of plastic. She adds: “There is no harm carrying a cloth bag for shopping. Everyone has a responsibility towards nature and this is probably the first step. Because plastic takes years to degrade and sometimes it does not. Therefore, I don’t mind carrying my own cloth bag for shopping. Every citizen should take such measure to keep the environment clean and safe.”
Many a times out of sheer laziness we don’t carry our own bags to the market. CEO, Drishti Marine, Ravi Shankar says that the ban is a good initiative. “I personally have at least three bags in my vehicle for the different items that I need to purchase. Our parents did it as well. Cloth bags are a good alternative,” he says.
A teacher Sarita Naik has stopped using plastic bags ever since the ban was first announced some years ago. While many think it’s troublesome, Sarita says it’s extremely convenient. “Earlier, I would accept plastic bags, and then I would worry about disposing them off. Keeping separate cloth bags for vegetables, fish, chicken, and milk is the way to do away with plastic,” she says.
The ban should be strictly implemented and followed by all even if it means losing a customer. There needs to be a collective effort from vendors, customers, law makers and manufacturers to ensure that not just Goa, but plastic is rooted out from the marketplace at all levels. “Only when the people who produce and manufacture these bags are fined for doing so, or we develop innovative packing, we will have a plastic free country,” says Sarita who advises people to maintain cloth bags that can be washed, reused and are eco friendly and healthier options.
The problem while managing waste
Consultant, Praveen Paul says: “The problem with plastic is that it is non-biodegradable and therefore it causes an environmental hazard. From a shopping perspective it a very convenient and people love to carry them. A fact that is well known is that the plastic bags don’t break up easily and Goa being a coastal area has huge amount of plastics lying in its waters. So, at some point we have to look for alternatives to do away with plastic as we have not yet found how to dispose plastic effectively.”
He also spoke about the initiative undertaken in Karnataka known as ‘Bring Your Own Bag’ for which BYOB products offer a multi-functional, reusable, recyclable and eco-friendly alternative to the traditional plastic bag. “There are several states that have banned plastic bags therefore people are seeking for other options like paper bags, cloth bags and jute bags which are biodegradable,” says Praveen.
(With inputs from Sachi Naik & Sheras Fernandes)

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