Two days away from the plastic ban and still clueless about what you need to do? Here's all you need to know

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As your neighbourhood grocer started stacking your order on your hands refusing to give you a plastic bag, as that immediately recognisable bright pink spoons at your local Natural's were replaced with the wooden spoons that we used to get with Amul cups in the 90s, as your Zomato and Swiggy orders started arriving without plastic cutlery, it became increasingly clear, this time, the plastic ban is here to stay.

However, even though the announcement was made three months ago, there is still a high degree of confusion, especially among end consumers, about where they must dispose the ever-growing mounds of plastic items they have been so accustomed to using all this while.

What is this new notification about? 

The government has now authorised regulations for manufacture, usage, sale, storage, transport of the products made from plastic and thermocol, etc. which generates non-biodegradable waste. The notification describes “plastic” as material which contains an essential ingredient - a high polymer such as polyethylene terephthalate, high density polyethylene, vinyl, low density polyethylene, polypropylene, polystyrene resins, poly styrene (thermacol), non-oven polypropylene, multi layered co extruder, poly propylene, poly terephthalate, poly amides, poly methyl methacrylate, plastic micro beads, etc.

In English please, you ask? What exactly is being banned?

In exercise of the powers conferred by Clause (1) & (2) of Section 4 of the Maharashtra Non-Biodegradable Garbage (Control) Act, 2006, the Government of Maharashtra issued the notification called the Maharashtra Plastic and Thermocol Products (manufacture, usage, sale, transport, handling and storage) Notification, 2018.

The ban is applicable to the whole of Maharashtra, for manufacture, usage, transport, distribution, wholesale & retail sale and storage, import of the plastic bags with handles and without handles, and the disposable products manufactured from plastic and thermocol (polystyrene).

Therefore, for users and businesses, these items in your house or stores can now make you poorer by Rs 5000 - single use disposable dishes, cups, plates, glasses, fork, bowl, container, disposable dish/ bowl used for packaging food in hotels, spoon, straw, non-woven polypropylene bags, cups/pouches to store liquid, packaging with plastic to wrap or store the products, packaging of food items and food grain material, plastic bags, “PET and PETE bottles” used for packaging or storing liquid or semi liquid food including water etc.

What is still allowed?  

The document published by the government clearly earmarks the following plastic and thermocol items as exempt from the ban, for now:

  1. Plastic bags or plastic used for packaging of medicines.
  2. Only compostable plastic bags or material used for plant nurseries, horticulture, agriculture, handling of solid waste. However, bags/sheets utilised for this purpose shall be prominently printed on it with “Use exclusively for this specific purpose only”. The manufacturers or seller of compostable plastic carry bags shall obtain a certificate from the Central Pollution Control Board before marketing or selling for this purpose.
  3. Plastic and plastic bags manufactured for export purpose only, in the Special Economic Zone and export oriented units, etc.
  4. The plastic cover/plastic to wrap the material at the manufacturing stage or is an integral part of manufacturing. Guidelines to recycle or reuse such plastic should be printed prominently on the cover and material.
  5. Food grade virgin plastic bags not less than 50 micron thickness, like those used for packaging of milk. Food takeaway containers also make the cut. However, such plastic bags should be clearly printed with the price for buy back which should not be less than 50 paise. The onus of developing the collection and buy-back mechanism lies upon the retailers – and the government has stated that they will be compensated for the money they use to buy back the plastic.

When was the ban announced, and when will it be enforced?

While it was announced on the occasion of Gudi Padwa, it will be in effect starting June 23, effectively giving businesses and citizens three months to find alternatives and rid themselves of their existing stock of all the kinds of plastic described above.

What happens when you break the law?

The fine you will attract for violating the ban for the first time will be Rs 5,000, followed by Rs 10,000 for the second offence and Rs 25,000 for the third. As a repeat offender, you even risk attracting a three-month jail term. Manufacturers may lose their license for flouting the ban.

Who does this apply to?

Simply put, every individual and public and/or private organisation residing, registered or operating or existing within the administrative boundaries of Maharashtra. The ban also permeates every single area within its geographical boundaries – which is to say that you can be prosecuted for using or carrying plastic anywhere within the state. 

What now? What are you required to do as a business?

 The notification states that you must bring about the disposal of existing stock by

  1. Sale outside the State.
  2. Sale to authorised recycler or industry.
  3. Handed over to local body for scientific disposal or recycling; and plastic waste generated under buy back scheme to be handed over to authorized recyclers or to the such mechanism developed for the same.
  4. Develop a buy-back from customers and recycling system for the plastic packaging or casing you must use, as explained above.

What about citizens in their personal capacity? One might understandably be holding a tonne of plastic at home - how do they prevent punitive action? 

The notification doesn’t state much save for disposing off existing plastic banned items by 1) Handing over to Local Body for Scientific disposal or recycling; 2) Sale to authorised recycler or industry. However, the government has followed up this brief call to action with large scale awareness drives – for which, a budget of Rs. 10 crore had been allocated.

These awareness drives were largely to announce a host of initiatives to help users deal with their plastic underbellies.

 Firstly, in Mumbai, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has launched a service where citizens can call 1800-222-357, a helpline and arrange for a pick-up of their hordes of plastic. This helpline has been live and buzzing since April 23. Roughly 20 garbage trucks have been deployed to be on call and do the rounds. “This toll-free number line will also give advice about scientific disposal of plastic waste and alternatives to plastic items,” explains Nidhi Chaudhari, Head Anti-Encroachment Department of BMC, to NDTV.

Plastic “collection centres”, which are nothing but black coloured bins, as well as over 100 PET bottle crushing machines placed strategically in public places across the cities, which are emptied and kept ready to function regularly – in order to collect plastic for recycling at dry waste collection centres in the city.

A 200-strong taskforce of officials across 24 wards has been deployed by the BMC to keep a hawk’s eye on market areas that typically see high uses of plastic, and may approach you seeking your Aadhaar numbers or PANs, if you are spotted breaking the rules. 

Consumers may bear the brunt of this ban as business toy with the idea of transferring costs entirely to the end consumer – non-plastic packaging being generally more expensive. Plastic bottles with a capacity of less than half-a-litre have been banned completely.

This is nothing short of a lifestyle change – how does one cope, where does one start?

For starters, BMC has made a resource with contact numbers of many credible organisations that manufacture and sell eco-friendly alternatives to plastic, on their official website.

Through the mega rath yatra they organized over a span of three months, to create awareness about the ban, nearly 1.5 lakh people have been sensitized and 5,000 plastic alternative items such as cloth bags have been sold.

Lastly, tomorrow onwards, until Sunday, June 24, a grand exhibition has been organized at NSCI, Dome in Mumbai’s Worli in order to showcase all the myriad ways in which people can adopt a greener, plastic-waste-free way of life. Expect this to be a star-studded affair as many Bollywood bigwigs have vehemently championed the cause.