The Maharashtra Plastic Ban: Immediate Effects and Possible Lessons

Plastics have become an everyday occurrence in our lives. Be it the bottle from which we drink water or the vendor from who we buy our groceries, plastics form a big part of our lifestyle. To strip that away completely in a hasty manner without having proper alternatives, creates a chaotic situation. The latest victim of such chaos is Maharashtra.

The Government of Maharashtra with rightful intentions to eliminate the plastic dependency took a very bold decision on 23rd June by completely banning plastics. Prior to the ban, the Government had issued a notification on March 23, 2018 stating its intention to do so. It was met with a lot of hue and cry due to the prompt implementation of the ban as it did not allow for a proper cushioning for manufacturers and other business entities to realign their business processes in accordance with the ban.

The plastic ban initiated by Maharashtra is not the first of its kind. Several other Indian states already have existing plastic bans in some form or the other. For Example, the Kerala Government has banned PET bottles for supply of packaged drinking water in hotels, resorts, houseboats and hospitals while the Odisha Government has banned the use of plastic bags near the Chilika Lake region. The only difference between them and Maharashtra is that, it is the first state to take out a total ban on plastics.

Prior to this current ban, the Maharashtra Government had already tried a form of partial ban way back in 2005 by banning the use of certain types of plastic bags within the state. It did not meet with much success as the State Legislature had worked on it in isolation and did not enlist the involvement other machineries to oversee its implementation. To remedy that this time around the State Government has enlisted the aid of municipal corporations and other agencies to teach and educate business owners and individuals regarding the alternatives to plastic so that it can be smoothly rolled out. However, three months might not be enough time, as the rumbles of protest from various industry bodies and the writ petitions to the Bombay High Court suggest.

The main objective of the plastic ban is to the pave way for a cleaner environment by reducing the dependency on plastics. The problem with the present implementation is that most entities are not entirely sure what are the plastic products which are banned and the ones that are exempted from it. This has created a panic amongst most businesses as the penalties attached to this ban are quite hefty. On an individual scale, for using any form of banned plastics, they can be fined as high as Rs. 25,000 along with the possibility of imprisonment. More importantly, from the point of view of the manufacturers and other business entities, they could lose their license for not complying with the ban.

The other problem with the current implementation is from the business point of view. Several manufacturers, packers and other business entities including the All India Plastics Manufacturers Association have challenged the ban primarily because business entities which are established pan India now have to manufacture or pack their goods differently for Maharashtra when compared to the rest of the country.

All of this could have been avoided to a large extent had the ban been brought about across the country at or around the same time with a proper gestation period. For example, the Kenyan government had provided for a six-month period for manufacturers and businesses to realign their business processes after notifying the ban on plastics. During this period the government aided and educated the businesses on alternatives to plastics and even waived off fines for entities who were in violation. To put things in perspective, Kenya has a population of 48 million when compared to India’s 1.2 Billion. Maharashtra in itself has three times the population of Kenya living in the state. Any implementation of a ban of a product as widely in use as plastic, therefore, required a lot more thought and planning.

Needless to say, there can be no doubts on the fact, that the use of plastic has to be reduced significantly over the short and medium terms. Here are some recommendations from our side, on how to reduce the use of plastic in a sustainable manner:

  • Create a national policy for reduction and eventual banning of all plastic products across India and consult with all impacted industries and users for suggestions and comments.
  • Conduct national-level awareness programmes across all districts on the ill effects of plastic and alternatives to plastic products.
  • Train people and industries on proper disposal and recycling of plastic.
  • Encourage and incentivise production of eco-friendly alternatives to plastic products.
  • Recognise businesses which implement the use eco-friendly alternatives to plastic with tax breaks and other incentives.
  • Implement the ban of plastic products in a phased scientific manner.

While this will take a lot more than the three months within which the Maharashtra government has tried to implement the ban on plastic products, we believe that the effects will be a lot more visible across India in the long term.

Authors:

  • Soham Basu (Senior Legal Associate)
  • Vivek Chattopadhyay (Legal Associate)

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