The State of Maharashtra in India has banned the use of several plastic good and materials from 23rd March 2018. The ban covers the production, use, storage, sale, distribution, import and transportation of plastic. Any violation of the ban by a seller or a buyer is punishable. An offender is liable to be fined Rs.5,000 (AU$100) for the first offence and Rs.10,000 (AU$200) for the second time. A third-time offender is liable to be fined Rs.25,000 (AU$500) and three months of imprisonment.

What has been Banned?

The State Government of Maharashtra has banned the following plastic items:

  • Plastic shopping bags
  • Disposable materials made from plastic and thermocol including disposable dishes, cups, plates, glasses, forks, bowls, containers, disposable dishes / bowls (used for packaging food in hotels), spoon, straw, non-woven polypropylene bags, cups, pouches to store liquid and plastic wraps
  • Thermocol items for decoration

What is still allowed?

Despite the ban on many daily use plastic items, the list of allowed plastic items presently is long, use of each item though comes with its own terms and conditions. The list of exempted items and their usage terms are:

  • PET or PETE bottles made of high quality food grade virgin Bisphenol A free material with a pre-defined buy back (re-cycling) mechanism and price printed on the bottles.
  • Plastics used for packaging of medicines
  • Compostable plastic bags or material used for plant nurseries, horticulture, agriculture, handling of solid waste with purpose of use printed on it with the instruction ‘use exclusively for the specific purpose only. A certificate from the Central Pollution Control Board Manufacturers will also be required prior to sale of these bags.
  • Manufacture of plastic and plastic bags for export purposes with guidelines to recycle or reuse printed prominently on the bags
  • Food grade virgin plastic bags not less than 50-micron for Milk with a buy back mechanism
  • Garbage bags for a period of three months

The Government has created awareness among authorities, shopkeepers, vendors and citizens about the ban through various medium of communication (newspapers, radio, television & social media) and is looking to ensure strict implementation of the ban. The Government has given the system a three-month adjustment period beyond which it will levy penalties for non-compliance. Shops and vendors are the main source of plastic item distribution and the government intends to take stringent measures to ensure their compliance. If shops and vendors are found selling banned products, then their licences will be either revoked or will not be renewed.

Implementation of the ban on plastic items will be the key. Often good decisions fail when it comes to implementation. The last attempt of the Government to partially ban plastics in 2006 after finding that the 2005 deluge in Mumbai was caused by clogging of storm water drains by plastic waste failed on implementation. The State had announced a partial ban on plastic carry bags of up to 50 microns. Practically, though implementation of the ban was difficult as 1) the ban did not cover the citizen, the consumers of plastic bags and 2) the measurement of microns in each case was difficult to ascertain and implement. Vendors would normally be warned of authorities and would have the higher micron bags ready for distribution in such situations. Hence now with most types of plastic bags and other items being banned and citizens (consumers) penalised along with vendors for usage of plastic, implementation will be relatively better. The Bombay High Court also supported the cause by refusing to stay the ban on plastic, making the Government’s task of implementation easier.

With the court hurdle cleared, the Government has given manufacturers, traders, sellers and users a period of three months to dispose of all existing stock of the banned plastic items and create a mechanism to recycle all the regulated but allowed items such as plastic bottles, milk pouches, etc.

Our View

We believe the ban on plastic bags and items is a bold and welcome step taken by the State Government of Maharashtra. While relatively easier this time due to the nature of ban, implementation still will be a challenge as it involves a give up on a very big convenience, which the sellers and consumers have been accustomed to for a very long period. The success of the ban involves a significant behavioural change.

The State of Maharashtra generates around 1200 metric tonnes of plastic waste every day. Besides clogging the drains, the waste being non-biodegradable is also severely damaging the ecology. Plastic is a serious environmental hazard which affects the health of human beings, animals and marine life. The ban hence is a much-needed effort to curb the generation of plastic waste and save the ecological balance in the State.

Less plastic waste would also mean that many cities, towns and villages in the State will be much cleaner and more liveable, providing better quality of life to its citizens. Animals and marine life will also get some respite from the threat of plastic waste. The success of implementation of the ban by the State of Maharashtra will determine the adoption of the ban by other state’s in India.
While the ban is necessary from the environmental perspective, it will lead to a transitory loss of livelihood for many dependent on the Rs.500bn (AU$10bn) industry in India. It will cause also higher inconvenience for retail outlets and restaurants selling takeaway foods, potentially leading to some loss of business. We believe this is a transitory adjustment required for a better tomorrow.

Exhibit: Plastic Waste in the Wild