The war on plastic finally appears to have taken on urgency in Goa, with the proposed policy banning single-use plastics in the State.
The policy in this regard is expected to be notified and adopted by September this year – just five months from now – and this could not be quicker. But, given past experience of missed deadlines in the battle to save the environment, the cheers for this policy will be reserved only when it is actually implemented. Until then, we can only wait and expect that the government will work towards meeting this date it has set. With the country looking to eliminate single-use plastics by 2022, Goa meeting the target in 2019 will indeed be a first for the State and set an example for other States in the country to follow.
But will Goa be rid of single-use plastics by September this year? That is a very big question. It is not enough to have a policy – that part is the first step and the easiest of all – it is the implementation of the policy and the rules framed that will eliminate disposable plastic from the State. The government can expect much reluctance from the business community in the State towards this, not just the manufacturers – of which there are 35 – but also the middlemen, the retailers and the shopkeepers who offer items of such plastic quality to their clients, and also the end users themselves, who have got accustomed to the material.
The one-use plastic items include a variety of everyday objects like plastic bags, straws, coffee stirrers, soda and water bottles and most food packaging. The use of these in Goa is extremely high, given also that the State attracts a large number of tourists, for whom many of these items are currently indispensible. Attempt to ban these and view the reaction of the people to it. To gauge the opposition this will meet, one just has to look at the resistance that has emerged to any past rules or attempts to ban or restrict the use of certain plastics in the State.
The State has already imposed a ban on the use of plastic below 50 microns, however, it has not been very effective as the use of plastic below that has not entirely been stopped. The municipalities in the State, following directives from the Centre, had banned plastic carry bags, but this too was not greeted with much enthusiasm, and traders continue to give plastic bags to their customers to carry their purchases. The threat of fines to the traders and the users has not really worked, though a section of the people has given up on plastic carry bags. The government will have to deal with the resistance of the business community to any move to stop the use of disposable plastic.
For the war on plastics to be successful, what the State has to do is begin promoting alternatives to the plastics from now on, even before the ban can be implemented, so that the opposition to plastic will be minimised. Bags made of jute, cloth or paper; straws and stirrers of steel that can be reused have to be introduced in the market so that people get accustomed to the replacements. Nobody likes a sudden change, least of all people who have gotten used to certain products. If the alternatives can be introduced in the market, then the ban can succeed.
India is not the only country that is looking to eliminate single-use plastic. Last month, the European Parliament had unanimously voted to ban single-use plastic as part of a sweeping law against plastic waste. If countries across the world get together on this, then the day won’t be far when plastic waste that is polluting the oceans is eliminated forever.