You could be fined for possession of single-use plastic in India

the Gateway of India
CC BY 2.0 Dan Searle

The state of Maharashtra, home to Mumbai, collected nearly $6,000 in fines this past Sunday from businesses that haven't gotten rid of banned plastics yet.

In a speech earlier this month, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi called plastic "a menace to humanity" and pledged to eliminate single-use plastics throughout the country by 2022. The majority of states have partial or full bans on certain plastics already, but these are often not enforced.

The state of Maharashtra, however, is wasting no time. Maharashtra is home to major cities Mumbai and Pune and has a population of 100 million, which means that its policies affect a great number of people. At the end of March, the state government announced a list of fines for being in possession of single-use plastics, and these took effect on June 23, giving businesses only three months to come up with alternatives. This is a far cry from the generous multi-year timelines that many countries are giving themselves.

If businesses are found with any of the banned items -- which include disposable dishes, cups, plates, glasses, forks, bowls, containers, plastic packaging to wrap or store products and foods, and plastic bags handed out in store -- then they will be fined. First-time offenders are charged Rs 5,000 (US $73), and second-time offenders will pay Rs. 25,000 (US $367).

CNN reports that fast-food chain McDonald's has already been hit with fines. The company says it has begun using wooden cutlery, paper cups, and biodegradable straws made of starch, but it hasn't figured out everything yet:

"The chain was fined because it has not yet found similar alternatives for delivery items such as plastic lids for drinks, a spokesperson for McDonald's India told CNNMoney. McDonald's has joined restaurant associations in the region in asking for exemptions from the ban for delivery and takeaway orders, the spokesperson added."

This past Sunday, the government's special task force collected Rs. 400,000 ($5,900) in fines from 80 businesses in Mumbai, and a similar amount was collected in Pune. This sends a strong message to retailers and consumers alike -- that the government means business and is getting serious about the crackdown on plastics.

If Modi's promise is kept, then India will see all single-use plastics abolished within three years. Maharashtra can hopefully be a model for the rest of the country, perhaps even the world, showing that there's no point in wasting time and that workable alternatives exist.

There's a good chance residents of Mumbai are inspired by their own beach cleanup projects, which have gained international headlines. Versova Beach, which was one strewn with plastic garbage, is now a turtle nesting habitat. An estimated 15 million kilograms of plastic have been removed by thousands of volunteers. It's real-life evidence of the positive effect individual change can have on the planet, and of the importance of halting the plastic flow at its source, rather than focusing on cleanup.

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