05 Jul Our Plastic Problems and Possible Solutions
Government of Maharashtra state has banned, under Non-biodegradable Garbage Control Act (2006), use of plastic items that that are used for one time and then thrown away such as plastic bags and plastic spoons. Fines for violating this rule, are heavy. Rs 5,000 for offender for his / her first offence. Rs 10,000 for his second offence. Rs 25,000 and three months imprisonment for third offence. Compare these punishments levied by our state government for spitting, littering and urinating in public. They are Rs 150, 180 and 200 respectively. These acts do increase chance of spread of disease in public area. Penalty for first offence of carrying a plastic bag in public is 33 times that for spitting in public. As if an act of carrying a plastic bag in public causes 33 times more harm to people around, than an act of spitting out.
Heavy punishment does not always give desired result. Punishment for robbery is maximum 10 years. This punishment has existed since 1860. But that has not reduced robbery in our country to zero.
Hence, high level of fines will not help to solve the problem. It will in fact increase instances of backlash, as it happened in certain Australian retail outlets over a similar ban on plastic bags. What is required is providing alternatives, educating general public and then giving people time to change their outlook and accept the alternatives.
Rather than banning use of plastic bags, a ban should have been introduced on giving of plastic bags for free. In the past, all vegetable vendors provided plastic bags for free. They should have been motivated to provide these bags for one or two rupees. This would have had an immediate effect for low income and middle income shoppers. They would have brought bags from home. Which means, they would have taken care to not throw away plastic bags but instead wash them and reuse them. This would have reduced our consumption of plastic bags.
Consider consumption of plastic spoons for one time use. Who disburses such spoons? Persons / companies who operate canteens, shops which sell cakes, ice- creams in cups, hawkers who sell fried rice, Chinese bhel. Which one of them can be easily controlled? Ofcourse the organised sector. Hence, a ban should have been brought on disbursement of plastic spoons first on large canteens and large shops, then on small canteens and small shops and then on hawkers. Simultaneously, general public should have been made aware that there is a good alternative, which a generation ago, was being extensively used for eating ice-creams — wooden spoons.
Additionally, desirable object should be made cheaper and undesirable object should be made expensive. That is, taxes on plastic spoons should have been increased and taxes on wooden spoons should have been reduced over a period of time to push people in a financial way to stop using plastic and start using environmentally friendly alternatives. G.s.t. on plastic spoons is 18%. G.s.t. on wooden cutlery was 18% till last September. Now it is 12%. There is scope to increase g.s.t. on former to 28% and reduce g.s.t. on latter to 5% or even 0%. But this has not yet been done.
After consuming a plastic spoon once, one has to throw it away. If a cost has to be incurred by common man for disposing waste, then he / she will feel pressure to generate less waste. For example, instead of throwing away the plastic spoon after first use, he / she will take it home and keep re-using it. Charging for picking up garbage as per its weight or volume is called pay-as-you-throw (p.a.y.t.) policy. This policy is already implemented in Ireland, Finland and Australia. It is high time that it is implemented in our country. This will be one more step in direction of Swachh and plastic-mukt Bharat.
-by Prof. Zubin Sethna