India's capital city has taken a strong stand against plastic pollution, but now it needs to convince its residents.
India’s capital city, Delhi, has taken a courageous step toward fighting plastic pollution. In December 2016, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) voted to pass a law banning the use of all disposable plastics throughout the national capital region. This came into effect on January 1, 2017.
The decision applies to all disposable plastics, including produce bags, chai cups, and cutlery. While the change is meant to reduce the staggering amount of plastic pollution generated by India, not everyone is supportive of the change. Many fruit and vegetable vendors are concerned they will lose business, as customers will go elsewhere if they cannot get a bag in which to carry their purchases. Other wish there had been more time to get used to the idea of such a ban.
In the eyes of environmentalists, however, there is no time left to waste. India and four other Asian nations are the top plastic polluters in the world. They are responsible for an estimated 60 percent of the 8.8 million tons of plastic that are added to the world’s oceans each year. If current rates continue, Asia will be dumping 80 percent of the world’s plastic at a rate of 200 million tons a year by 2025. That’s not very far off, which means action is needed now.
Delhi’s ban is partly reaction to three local dumping sites – Okhla, Gazipur, and Bhalswa – that operate as waste-to-energy plants, but, according to residents, use illegal mass burning technology that creates air pollution. The National Green Tribunal stated:
“Each of these sites is a depiction of mess that can be created for environment and health of people of Delhi.”
The plants have been ordered to comply with the law and will be fined US $7,300 per subsequent pollution incident.
A fine of US $147 will also be charged to vegetable and fruit vendors and butchers for throwing garbage into the streets.
While the ban is a great idea in theory, it remains to be seen how the implementation gap is resolved. People need to learn about alternatives, like the reusable cloth bags that are ubiquitous in North America but have yet to permeate the mainstream in India. There are also paper bags, which contribute to deforestation but do not create the waste problems that plastic do, although Indian vendors complain that paper cannot support as much weight.
Another odd alternative, cited by Manon Verchot in a report for The Quint, is edible plastic bags, invented by an Indian company called EnviGreen. While not recommended for human consumption, these bags are thought to be less harmful to the many animals that roam Indian streets, rooting through garbage.
How the city plans to deal with disposable plastic water bottles is unclear, as these are pretty much a standby for residents and travellers.
Plastic bans and zero waste innovation are not altogether new in India. TreeHugger has written about cities such as Vasco, in Goa, that implemented a "zero garbage" scheme way back in 2003. Delhi created a ban on plastic bag manufacturing in 2010, and an Indian company invented edible cutlery for on-the-go meals. Clearly it's a conversation that the country continues to engage in, to varying degrees of success.
Nonetheless, the ban in Delhi, as the national capital, is symbolically important. Hopefully it will get people talking and thinking about the long-term effects of every piece of plastic we accept and inspire them to generate less waste on a daily basis. With a country as populated India, this has potential to add up and make a big difference.