Single Use Plastic: Study finds consumers confused on what constitutes single use plastics

Esha Roy

According to the study,  "rapid rise"  in online shopping is `"creating mountains of cardboard and packaging waste." 

At a time when the government is trying to phase out plastic in India, a study "Single-Use Plastics: The Last Straw", released by environment body –Toxic Links on Wednesday found that most consumers do not consider mineral water bottles and straws as single-use plastic (SUP), despite them being so. Only 57 percent of those surveyed in urban centers including metropolitan cities and smaller towns, considered plastic carry bags as single-use plastic, said the study.

Interestingly, the survey also found that consumers are not wanting to use single-use plastics and are looking for alternatives.

"There is a huge gap between the government's desire to phase out plastic products and awareness among the people. Although the Prime Minister's announcement of the government's intention to do has had a huge impact and has brought this conversation to the fore. The good news is that we found during our survey that consumers do not want to use single-use plastics and are looking for alternatives – the alternatives are simply not available yet,'' says the author of the report Priti Mahesh.

In the survey, 16 single-use plastic items were taken into account out of which three were particularly ubiquitous and harmful.

"The harmful products include things like plastic tubes – such as toothpaste or creams, medicine wrappers with multi-layer plastic capsule holders and the packaging for online products. The consumer is aware that these need to be replaced and have told us that they do not need harmful plastic products like straws, plastic cutlery or the excessive plastic packaging of online goods. So the study busts the myth that the plastic industry peddles that they manufacture these products because there is the consumer wants it,''adds Mahesh.

According to the study,  "rapid rise"  in online shopping is `"creating mountains of cardboard and packaging waste."

The survey also said that while respondents from the economically lower income group identity items like balloon sticks and non-refillable pens as SUPs, an overwhelming 65 per cent of the total respondents did not categorise them as SUPs.

``This group though got it all wrong for packaging material and mineral water bottles as only 26% and 20% of them believe these are Single Use Plastic. The results clearly point out towards the ambiguity in the mind of individual consumers regarding what is single use plastic,''says the study.

Plastic bags of less than 50 microns have been banned in India since 2016. However, even after three years, the study said, "22 per cent were completely unaware. Only 40% of the respondents, aged under 20, were certain about the 50-micron restrictions in the Plastic Rules. In fact, the awareness grew with age- the 60 plus population was the most aware at 76%,'' the study finds.

India’s plastic industry recorded an annual revenue worth Rupees 3.5-lakh crore in 2019, according to All India Plastic Manufacturers Association.  The predicted polymer consumption growth between 2017-2022 is 12.9 per cent, the study said adding that plastic is one of the fastest-growing industries in India and is connected to almost all kinds of businesses.

The Central Pollution Control Board has estimated approximately 3.6 Million Tonnes per annum of plastic waste generation for India

A major reason for proliferation of SUPs is the changing lifestyle, especially in urban context, says the study. Increased mobility means needs to carry food, liquid and other personal care products- smaller pouches or containers, made of plastic, is seen as more convenient and hence are now widely in use. In 2015, plastic packaging waste (single use plastic designed for immediate disposal) accounted for 47% of the plastic waste generated globally, with half of that appearing to come from Asia. Estimates suggest 50% of plastic is discarded in India after single use.

The marine has become sinks for large quantities of single use plastic. The most abundant and widespread source of marine debris is plastics, accounting for 60–95% of marine litter.

In India, more than 20 states have notified full or partial plastic bans Maharashtra being the first.