Banning Polythene: More inclusive approach needed

Odisha is all set to ban polythene from 2nd October 2018 starting with 5 cities namely Cuttack, Puri, Bhubaneswar, Sambalpur & Berhampur. Entire state is most likely to get rid of polythene in next two years. Recently, CM of Odisha, Naveen Patnaik has ordered this and accordingly state machineries are developing guidelines and drafting policy documents to ensure Odisha becomes polythene-free state soon.

While the document is yet to be brought out, media reports suggests that Odisha is soon going to have a policy to ban single use plastics and polythene. Odisha Non Bio Degradable Garbage Control Act is being put in place. While details of act is yet to be known, it is assumed that the act will be having the provision of levying penalty and imprisonment for manufacturer, wholesaler, retailer and user. While the step is hailed as ‘good and required’ by environmental activists; the previous experience points that any unidirectional approach to deal with polythene menace has not been effective.

Banning single-use polythene and plastics is not new in India and as many as 19 states have joined this “ban polythene” bandwagon with Odisha and Himachala Pradesh being the latest entrants. Even Odisha has declared ban on polythene, the thickness of which is less than 40 microns way back in 2011. But this could not be enforced and polythene still continues to be used in our market places without any discrimination. Many blame Govt’s unidirectional policy for the failure in implementation of these rules.

Many of the small and medium enterprises and public sector undertakings use polythene abundantly in packaging and marketing of products but they are not covered under polythene ban. Similarly many corporate houses also sell their food, snacks and beverages in poly packs, tetra packs or in plastic bottles. While Govt is now putting its thrust on banning of single use plastics, these corporate houses cannot be allowed to go free. Until unless they are reined in, a complete blanket ban on polythene will not be possible.

Similarly, even though Govts of different states have recognized the polythene menace, they have overlooked the polythene that have deposited as of now. Currently as per CPCB survey the per capita consumption of polythene in India is 9.7 Kg which is huge and over the last two decades we have deposited million tons of polythene in our state and nobody is talking about it. While polythene takes 200 to 500 years to degrade, we need to start thinking about it and develop a mechanism to treat this accumulated waste. Until the policy talks about it, the inclusiveness in managing the polythene menace will be missing.

Mere declaration or policy enforcement cannot stop people using polythene until we develop a community participation framework. When the community starts discarding polythene, the results are more likely to follow soon. But Govt has more clear-cut role to do. It has to ensure regular raids, invest and promote alternate packaging methods as well as managing the polythene waste.

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While such bans even though limited in nature have already been announced, they have failed to yield results. Noted environmental activist, Biswajit Mohanty said “Such bans have been announced earlier in Municipalities and eco sensitive areas like Chilika and Simlipal but never enforced. The govt should go for a complete ban and must come out with a law in line with the law implemented by the Maharastra govt that has provisions for imprisonment for offenders, be it producer or dealer penalties or even for users. We are deeply concerned over disposable Styrofoam plates whose ban the Wildlife Society of Odisha has been demanding since 2 years. Odisha State Pollution Control Board has miserably failed in guiding the govt to make strong laws to check polythene and Styrofoam use. This is clear cut evidence that laws may not be sufficient to address the issue until there is a mind-set of Govt to address the issue from the grassroots.

Ghasiram Panda, a social activist who has filed a case in NGT with a request to enforce polythene ban in Sonepur Municipality is also of similar a view. “Govt may take up sensitization programmes with community but at the same time the law enforcement cannot be left loose. Both awareness and enforcement should go hand in hand,” Panda Said.

With the declaration of CM to ban polythene bags, social media is abuzz with people from various walks of life requesting citizens not to use polythene and make a pledge for this. A social media campaign #whereisyourcottonbag? is being taken up by some youths of Cuttack & Bhubaneswar to keep the debate around polythene ban alive. Celebrities like sand animator Manas Sahu, sprinter Dutee Chand have supported the move. It’s sure that now civil society is exerting a lot of pressure on state govt, and how do the administration respond to it will be very clear within a few months of implementing the ban.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same).

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