Recycling the plastic ban

Garbage

Proclaimed in big, bold letters, the plastic ban was assumed to clean up the city, rid its street corners of the ugly garbage pile-ups. But that was three years ago, and despite the sporadic raids, the black spots remain as plastic as ever. Will the BBMP’s latest directive to bulk generators, wedding halls in particular, now reverse the trend?

Mountains of used plastic water bottles, plastic plates, spoons and paper cups held together by a layer of plastic. Wedding halls across the city generate the unrecyclable waste in mammoth quantities, day after day. Determined to stamp out every trace of garbage difficult to manage, the Palike has included even the ubiquitous plantain leaf in the banned list.

Penalty deadline

Three months. That is all that the wedding hall managements and food caterers will get to implement the ban, failing which they will face a hefty penalty. Their alternative: Use steel serving-ware, set up ‘plate banks’ with enough stock of steel, ceramic melamine plates, spoons and cups. But the plate banks will also have to be equipped with dishwashing facilities to keep the crockery hygienically washed.

Predictably, the ban on plantain leaves has triggered a debate. Many have questioned the logic behind the move since the leaves are treatable. But the BBMP’s directive to replace these leaves with steel plates appears driven by its issues with treating mountains of wet waste. Some call it inefficiency.

Crackdown, intensified

To stamp out this image of inefficiency, the Palike has been on a raiding spree over the last few months. Last month, one such raid had targeted several shops on Avenue Road and Shivajinagar. Confiscated were tons of banned plastics, including spoons, cups, poly-propelene bags. The raids also stumbled upon a godown stocked with the banned plastic items. It was sealed.

In July, the Palike had unveiled a tech-driven process to track anyone who steps out with a plastic bag: A hand-held device that captures the person’s picture and location before generating a spot penalty receipt automatically. The device, equipped with a camera, has a screen with a Global Positioning System (GPS) interface.

Tech-driven monitoring

Palike health inspectors could also use the device to track and penalize defaulting shops where plastic items are sold. The captured details are sent to a centralized dashboard that monitors and records the penalty amount collected with the shop location in a particular ward. Senior BBMP officials can monitor the entire setup from the central office.

Justifying the ban on plantain leaves, Solid Waste Management Round Table (SWMRT) member, Pinky Chandran talks about the tough task of composting it. “These leaves are very fibrous and need to be shredded, which is a lot of work. They can be allowed only if the kalyan mantap / wedding hall has in-house composting facilities,” she notes.

Halls that host lavish weddings, Chandran contends, should be able to afford waste treatment plants / composting units. “The Palike’s directives are quite delayed. The chowltries and mantaps should have actually started the process since both the Central and State waste management rules explicitly include wedding halls under bulk generators. Implementation of these rules has been very poor.”

Past failures

So, why did rules, despite being stringent, fail to ensure compliance? One reason has been the stiff resistance put up by the plastic manufacturers and users lobby, as Sandya Natarajan from SWMRT points out. “This lobby has been very difficult to deal with. The legal challenges they posed has affected enforcement,” she says.

Cross-border supply of plastic products is another key factor. “KSPCB (Karnataka State Pollution Control Board) has managed to close down many local manufacturers, but they could not stop the cross border supply.”

Low-cost, affordable alternatives to plastic are yet to emerge in a big way, and this has been a major factor in the slow transition. Natarajan explains, “Hoteliers and retailers ask questions such as how to pack liquid, how to wrap daal, etc. This is a real challenge for the market. Pricing too matters, since plastic bags are available so cheaply. There are complications.”

Small vendor concerns

Small vendors are afraid of losing customers if plastic bags are not supplied. “Customers too have been very reluctant to change. They cannot simply walk out if vendors don’t give them bags. BBMP should be strict in enforcement even with customers. Then shopkeepers can authoritatively say they will have nothing to do with plastic.”

Official apathy meant that the 2016 government order banning use of non-biodegradabale plastic less than 40 microns, would remain mostly on paper. The Palike was strict in enforcing the rule, but after a couple of months, the enthusiasm petered out.

Palike claims

A senior Palike official recalls that the ban was partially successful in shopping malls. “It did have an effect in curtailing use of plastic covers in shopping complexes. Now most of the malls either charge for the plastic covers, or give out paper or cloth bags for a small price,” she says.

Middle class customers now think twice before shelling out more for a cloth bag. This has ensured that many take their own bag while going out shopping. The official says this is a big change.

But why has this not translated to a visible change on the ground? “BBMP has been carrying out various raids on plastic manufacturers, who continue to produce banned plastic items. But yes, we need to intensify these drives,” the official admits.


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