New Delhi: The Modi government's plan to outlaw single-use plastics on Wednesday, the 150th anniversary of the birth of Mahatma Gandhi, has been shelved. The plan to outlaw six items, officials said on Tuesday, would have been disruptive for the industry at a time when it is coping with an economic slowdown and job losses.
The two officials said there would be no immediate move to ban plastic bags, cups, plates, small bottles, straws and certain types of sachets and instead the government would try to curb their use.
For now, the government will ask states to enforce the existing rules against storing, manufacturing and using some single-use plastic products such as polythene bags and styrofoam, said Chandra Kishore Mishra, the top bureaucrat at the Ministry of Environment.
"There is no new ban order being issued," Mishra said. "Now, it's a question of telling people about the ill-effects of plastic, of collecting and sending for recycling so people don't litter."
The government also issued a clarification saying that the Swachhata Hi Seva campaign had been launched to creae awareness and not ban single-use plastic.
The Swachhata Hi Seva campaign launched by the Hon'ble PM on 11th September 2019 is not about banning single use plastic but creating awareness and a people's movement to curb its use @PMOindia @moefcc https://t.co/ZTb4jtJ3t8— Swachh Bharat (@swachhbharat) October 1, 2019
The government's proposed countrywide ban had dismayed consumer firms, which use plastic in packaging for everything from sodas and biscuits to ketchup and shampoo.
The Confederation of Indian Industry, a lobby group, said the move had become an existential issue for several economic sectors because alternatives were not immediately available. It said small-sized plastic bottles used for pharmaceutical or health products should be exempted as there is no alternate available. Sachets made from so-called multi-layered packaging should also not be banned, as that could disrupt supplies of products like biscuits, salt and milk, the confederation said.
"There was a conscious decision within the government not to hit businesses hard for now and discourage use of plastic only on a voluntary basis," said an official working on the policy. He declined to be identified in line with government rules.
Plastic waste is at epidemic proportions in the world's oceans with an estimated 100 million tonnes dumped there to date, according to the United Nations. Scientists have found large amounts of micro plastic in the intestines of deep-dwelling ocean mammals like whales.
India, which uses about 14 million tonnes of plastic annually, lacks an organised system for management of plastic waste, leading to widespread littering.
"The toxins, poisons and persistent pollutants present in some of these plastic products leach and enter human bodies where they cause several diseases, including cancer," said Chitra Mukherjee, head of advocacy and policy at Delhi-based Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group.