Plastic ban: Lack of clarity leaves E-commerce companies in a fix

Maitri Porecha New Delhi | Updated on October 03, 2019

The ban has been unevenly implemented   -  PTI

Centre, States urged to come out with a uniform nationwide policy

E-commerce companies are in a fix, as a decision is yet to be taken on a nationwide blanket ban on single-use plastic. The companies have been left wondering how they will ship products from a State that does not have a ban, to one that does.

According to sources, earlier this year, the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) sent a show-cause notice to Amazon over the use of bubble wrap plastic packaging.

The company sought legal opinion and enhanced the quality of its bubble-wrap to over 50 microns to adhere to the State’s Plastic Waste Management & Handling Rules.

It is crucial for States and the Centre to work together to formulate a uniform national policy framework for plastics use and plastic waste management, given the spread of e-commerce operations, observed industry sources.

Alternatives sought

Experts say alternatives to bubble-wrap should be found. “Even as companies are switching to over 50 microns of bubble-wrap to escape the lens of law, certain franchise delivery units stretch the bubble-wrap while packing to increase the size, and the microns are automatically diminished. Now, how can a State regulator monitor such nitty-gritties?” said Sanjay Upadhyay, a senior Delhi-based environment lawyer.

Maharashtra and 15 other States have banned certain single-use plastic and enforced monetary penalty over their use, but the Centre has no data on fines recovered. “We do not maintain central data on fines imposed by States for flouting anti-plastic rules,” said CK Mishra, Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF).

MoEF has categorically stated that there will be no ban, but a country-wide campaign against plastic use will be conducted.

“That decision (banning) has to be left to the States, we will just flag off a drive to reduce plastic use in a campaign mode by encouraging citizens to collect and recycle it,” Mishra told BusinessLine.

While 16 States have implemented some measure or the other against plastics use, the impact has been limited in most places due to poor enforcement, according to the All India Plastics Manufacturers’ Association (AIPMA).

Himachal Pradesh has banned non-biodegradable plastic bags and disposable plastic products. As the enforcement has been consistent, it has seen a decrease in plastic pollution. On the other hand, in Karnataka, plastic bags are still commonly used despite a ban. Punjab has banned single-use plastic carry bags and containers and Haryana has banned plastic bags. Kerala has banned the use of plastic bags less than 50 microns, while West Bengal has banned bags less than 40 microns, but implementation is patchy.

Sikkim bans plastic wrappers, bags and disposable styrofoam; they can be sighted in some shops while the majority have switched to paper bags.

Delhi has banned all kinds of disposable plastic but the ban has not been taken seriously. Maharashtra has banned plastic carry bags lesser than 50 microns, PET bottles smaller than 200 ml and disposable and decoration items made of plastic.

Other States that have joined the bandwagon are Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Assam and Meghalaya.

Vague definition

Experts say the definition of single-use plastic remains vague.

“Single-use plastic cuts across a wide range of products. Let alone a ban, the Centre has not even yet defined what is single-use plastic in the first place,” said Upadhyay, the lawyer. “There is a huge amount of commodity packaging, packaging for medicines, ear-buds, diapers, flex-boards and so on. Some of these items do not even feature under the items banned by some States,” he added.

“A proper definition and collation of plastics need to be done by the MoEF and the Department of Chemicals and Petrochemicals,” an AIPMA statement reiterated.

Published on October 03, 2019

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