July 3 was celebrated as International Plastic Bag Free day across the world. The Plastic Bag Free Day is now part of the broader “Break from plastic movement”, which brings together an international coalition of NGOs to build a future free from plastic pollution. This year marks the 9th edition of this day where scores of organisations and thousands of citizens around the world are encouraged to take action to raise awareness on the environmental impact and hazards of single-use plastic bags and promote more sustainable solutions.
The fact that a single-use plastic bag remains in the environment up to 800 years after their usage, comes as no surprise, with this year’s World Environment Day and Earth Day being dedicated to beat plastic pollution. According to the online portal World Count Facts, 5 trillion plastic bags are consumed every year, that’s 160,000 a second. India itself generates around 5.6 million tonnes of plastic waste annually, where Delhi alone accounts for 9,600 metric tonnes per day.
India’s government too chimed in to show their support for the day with Ashok Goel, spokesperson of BJP saying, “Plastics and polyethylene are fatal for the environment, instead opt for alternatives like cloth bags. Let us all pledge to contribute to protect the environment, by using less plastic.”
India as a country is great at launching “laws” but poor in carrying them out. Currently, India bans the usage and manufacturing of plastic bags below 50 microns as thinner bags pose a greater threat to the environment due to their non-disposability.
The law which was implemented in Delhi last year has shown no results on the street. The local government claimed to have seized over 30,000 kilos of banned plastic bags within 10 months of the law being implemented; however, the story on the streets portrays a far cry from it. A similar story is being played out in Maharashtra where, the Maharashtra state government banned the manufacture, use, storage, distribution, sale, import and transportation of a wide range of plastic items by a notification. However, the ban on single-use plastic only came into effect only on 23 June. A decision that was applauded internationally as well. However, small retailers complained, and, on 27 June, the government relaxed the ban on plastic usage, allowing mom-and-pop stores to use plastic bags, which are again above 50 microns. Though this relaxation is meant to be only for 3 months one has to wonder about the ability of the government to do this on its own.
Many of the shopkeepers of local kirana stores in Mumbai are struggling to find alternatives to pack their goods, blaming the government for not offering or considering the implications of the ban before embarking on it.
The government needs to promote and give an alternative and cheap packaging options to local vendors. Moreover, we as citizens need to make conscious efforts not to use these plastic bags.
Rakesh Bhalla, a resident of Delhi and an environmentalist who’s on a solo mission to make India “A Country of Flowers”, told Iamrenew that he celebrated the day by spreading awareness amongst his fellow citizens, “Everyday I go out, I carry my cloth bags to put in my shopping. I never accept any plastic bags from any of the vendors. Not only do they respect me for it but a lot of regular onlookers too try and mend their ways. Saying no to plastic bags is an effort we as individuals need to make to ensure a greener tomorrow.”
Mr. Bhalla’s quote highlights the deeper truth about our society to continuously blame a dependably clumsy government. It is time we as citizens empower ourselves in the fight against pollution rather than relying on our civic bodies so much. Only when we stop using these bags ourselves will the vendors stop keeping them. As they say, consumers drive the market, its about time consumers took over the plastics battle.