Maharashtra Bans Plastic, Consumers Will Have To Pay More Upfront 
A rag picker carries a bag of collected plastic bottles in the Govandi area of Mumbai, India (Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg)  

Maharashtra Bans Plastic, Consumers Will Have To Pay More Upfront 

Maharashtra, India’s largest generator of plastic waste, has decided to ban the polluting material and make consumers pay more for everything from packaged milk and beverages and then seek refund on returning pouches and bottles.

The state cabinet, late on Thursday night, agreed to ban disposable items made of plastic and thermocol, Maharashtra Environment Minister Ramdas Kadam said in a media conference. Plastic carry bags, single-use disposables like cups, straws, plates, forks, spoons and spreadsheets, among others, can’t be used starting March 18. Any violation will be punishable with up to three months of jail term and/or a penalty of Rs 5,000-25,000.

The ban excludes material used for packaging medicines, plastic that is thicker than 50 microns, and where the manufacturer takes an extended producer responsibility for recycling it.

Maharashtra, which contributes 30 percent of all plastic waste in India, already didn’t allow bags less than 50-micron in thickness in-line with a national policy. Plastics are not biodegradable and can continue to cause land, water and air contamination for up to 500 years. They are responsible for choking the oceans too and waste being washed ashore is a common sight. A study by the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Germany found that 90 percent of plastic pollutants in the world's oceans come from rivers in India, China and Africa.

A resident fills a plastic bottle (Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg)
A resident fills a plastic bottle (Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg)

The plastic making industry is not happy though. “There is no alternative to plastic except for paper bags. The industry is also big. It will cause huge unemployment that is difficult to quantify,” Ravi Jashnani, president of Maharashtra Plastic Manufacturing Association, told BloombergQuint. “How will the government implement it suddenly?”

The ban has been in the works since last year. “The decision is not taken ad hoc. We started the work on this in November 2017. We have been in talks with various stakeholders. The decision, however, is taken now,” Kadam said. The state will now set up a committee to implement the ban.

Making Users Pay

The government will give companies three to four months of breathing period to find alternatives to banned products, Kadam said. Dairies and manufacturers of packaged drinking water will have to set up recycling plants for plastic pouches and bottles.

For better compliance, state will set up deposit centres for consumers to return plastic items for recycling.

The government will charge additional 50 paise on every milk pouch, which will be refunded if the consumer returns the pouch. The additional upfront payment on PET plastic bottles, the ones used for aerated drinks and water, will be Re 1. That too will be refunded on returning the bottles.

Centres for returning plastic items for recycling will be opened at government offices, municipal wards, sports clubs and other such places, said Aaditya Thackeray, the youth wing leader of ruling alliance partner Shiv Sena who had lobbied for the plastic ban.

“The idea behind this deposit scheme is to make sure that the producers get back the bottles they manufacture and recycle the plastic so not a single bottle flows into the drainage system or goes into the sea,” said Kadam. The state also plans to implement a levy under GST for recycling and reuse of PET bottles which will be collected by local bodies.

Plastic bags filled with groceries (Photographer: Manaure Quintero/Bloomberg)
Plastic bags filled with groceries (Photographer: Manaure Quintero/Bloomberg)

The schemes will be reviewed every three months to check implementation and find viable alternatives, Thackeray said. Only those items have been banned where there is an economical and viable alternative, he said. The government recommends using alternatives like paper, jute and glass.

Tough To Implement

While Maharashtra will become the eighteenth state to ban plastics in India, implementation is not easy. Despite the earlier curbs on thinner bags, most vegetable and grocery vendors continue to use them. It’s only the larger outlets and shopping malls that ask customers to pay up for bags thicker than 50 microns.

In most parts of India, the bans have been ineffective, according to a 2014 study by environmental NGO Toxics Link. The reasons, it said, range from “slack enforcement by the administration to lack of cost-effective alternatives.”

Environmentalist Pramod Dabrase agreed will take some time to implement the ban. “However, it’s become a need of the hour. Also, it is a lifestyle change and people need to contribute to it.”

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