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The 4th R – REFRAIN from using PLASTIC

Throwing a plastic bottle out of a moving car or bus has been an age-old habit which still exists even among the elite and the educated. Such indiscreet acts of disposing off plastic have led to a life-threatening pollution, forcing a ban on the use of plastic products. Individuals & businesses that have been living and working with plastic products, today are groping in the dark for alternatives. Living and working with restraints on use of plastic products is definitely challenging. Mohana M takes a sneak peek into the industrial and retail lives running without plastic product; the dearth of knowledge about alternatives and the risk of improper implementation of ban, leading to violation.

Eighteen States in India have now imposed ban on plastic products. This March when Maharashtra, India’s largest generator of plastic waste, enforced restrictions on manufacture, use, storage, sale and import of most kinds of plastic products, including bags, bottle, cups and other daily use ‘necessities’, it was a wake-up call for most of us.

As Shipra Sharma, Head-CSR, L&T Infotech (LTi) admits plastic has been an indispensable component of our everyday lives… “It is light weight, durable and easy to use in packaging and transportation. This makes it extremely difficult for most of us to imagine a day without this very important resource. At the same time, plastic is increasingly turning into a persistent and big hazard on land and in our water bodies, once discarded.

“As per United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), people around the world produce nearly 300 million tonnes of plastic annually. Of this, nearly 13 million tonnes find its way into the oceans. Which would mean dumping nearly two garbage trucks of plastic into the ocean every minute! Microplastics are spread in places more than we usually think of- in our salt, contaminating our seas and running tap water too. These plastic bits could be thinner than a human hair! Waste which if left untreated could pose a direct threat to humans as much as marine life — all these are happening even while you read this article.”

The ‘Great Pacific Barrier Patch’, the plastic island in Pacific Ocean, is as big as the Texas. It was caused due to accumulation of plastic waste from converging sea currents. “Should such warning signs be left unaddressed it’s a catastrophe waiting to happen,” she added.

The Challenge

The common kirana stores at the corner of the street was all enthusiastic with the plastic bag ban initially. But he is still giving things in plastic bags. On querying, he informed that paper bags are yet to come and are a little more expensive than the plastic bags. Over and above he also faced problems with customers who ‘forget’ to bring their cloth bags to the kirana. Thus, forcing the store owner to give the purchased goods in ‘kirana bags’, that is used for packing provision bought ‘lose’ or from the whole sale ‘maal’. “I cannot return my customer back without making the purchase just because he does not bring his bag.” This was the contention of the kirana store owner.

Two blocks away was another retail provision store which turned back every customer who did not bring his or her own bag. “We have to be strict otherwise we have to face fine. Initially there was a lot of resistance but now people have started getting their own bags. This has cut down our expenses of buying alternatives in bulk.

The common laundry man at every street and ‘galli’ did not have any option but to wrap the ironed clothes in a newspaper sheet, which definitely were not white-clothes friendly. During a chat with the retail and commercial laundry service providers in Bangalore, they too voiced the dearth of proper alternative solutions for plastic laundry bags. The cloth bags available in the market were not in the preferred size to pack bulk laundry either.

For that matter, the man on the ‘tella’ selling raw eggs has now resorted to newspaper bags. However, experience and live examples prove that for a ban to be successful, there needs to be a comprehensive mix of factors beyond policy thrusts, most importantly mindset and behavioural change as well as an ecosystem for alternatives to replenish.

Speaking to Clean India Journal, Rahul Uppal, CEO, Woohoo Doodh, Pimpri-Chinchwad, felt that as on date there is barely any impact on the dairy business as there is no alternative packaging being used in dairy yet.

“For sure, banning plastic will work for the environment, but for it to work for businesses, it is only possible if there are other viable alternatives and consistent efforts towards educating consumers on the long-term ill effects of plastic.

“There are alternatives to plastic in almost every industry but a lot of them alter the economics of the industry unfavourably for the consumer in the short term. Therefore, an aware consumer and collective industry level initiatives are the only way to bring the costs of other alternatives down,” Rahul said.

What is now required is an immediate solution to alternatives and the higher cost of packaging that is going to be transferred to the consumer.

“While whatever is done till now, can only be termed as baby steps or first few steps. I strongly believe that responsible consumption is the only way ahead for such a heavily consumption focused economy as India.”

As per a current market study, Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad requires around 13 lakh litres of milk daily. Most of the milk is primarily served in plastic pouches. Woohoo doodh supplies fresh milk within 24 hours of milking at the doorstep of consumers to 1,500 households and has contributed close to one million litres of milk in recyclable paper-based gable top packaging since its inception. “Even though we are a nascent brand, we have been working towards keeping the ecosystem intact with our green initiative,” he added.

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