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Is a ban on plastic bags justified?

For the first time in the history of India, any city had almost 40 inches (1000 mm) of incessant rains just in about 1 day. This happened in the city on Mumbai, where majority of th e1000 mm fell in just 3-4 hours in the afternoon. This should be considered as natural calamity. Besides it was high tide and water could not flow in the sea. Instead all the roads and the other ground surface were under a few feet of water disrupting the life of Mumbai city. How can a city remain unaffected when so intense rain fell in the time period of less than 4 hours and that too at the time of high tide. Then why do you single out plastic bags as the primary reason for the choking of drains. We strongly believe that the Government is making the poor plastic bags as "scapegoat".

As a response to the flooding of Mumbai after the incessant rains on 26th July 2005, the Government of Maharashtra plans to ban the use of plastic bags in the state of Maharashtra. We must say that this response is completely unbelievable and that too cin a state where almost 1 million tons of various types of plastic products are manufactured. Is the Government, instead of working on the fundamental problem of water logging, putting all blames on plastic bags. While we agree that plastic bags and the other plastic products end up in the drains because of bad littering habits, can we blame plastic products alone for the water logging? By the proposed ban on plastic bags, the Government of Maharashtra is charting a detrimental course.

About 60 million tons of plastic is used in the packaging sector out of the total of about 170 million tons consumed in the World. India consumes only 4.5 million tons and therefore is a very small user of plastics in the World. While our population is more than 16% our share of plastic consumption is merely 4.5%. This banning will hamper the growth of plastic in our country and more so in Maharashtra state which has almost 25% share of the total plastic consumption. It would have seriousl adverse implications on the life of a common man. Plastics, due to their relatively higher cost efficiency, benefits ordinary citizens in sourcing their daily necessities in convenient and unadulterated form and at a fraction of the cost as compared to paper, glass or cloth. Use of alternative materials would result in substantial increase in packaging cost of milk, edible oil, bread, cereals, pulses, spices, confectionery items, toiletry products and a host of other items used by common man and may even push some of these products beyond the reach of poorer section of the society apart from creating higher impact on the environment. Milk packaging consumes almost 70 KT of plastic bags in India. By banning the use of bags in milk packaging and switching to glass or paper packaging, milk will become more expensive at least to the extent of Rs.5/liter. Secondly the best alternate mode of packaging is either in HDPE plastic bottle or of tetrapack which has Polyethylene coating. Both these alternatives would increase the burden to the common mass. Plastic as a material is one of the most beneficial to the public at large. It has proven its worthiness beyond any doubt. That is why there is no sphere of human kind that can not be filled without plastic.

While we can enumerate endless advantages of plastics, the following examples clearly illustrate the benefits of plastics to the society. Some of the applications that offer tremendous benefits globally, are:
· Distribution of milk all across the breadth of the large countries at the lowest cost
· Prevention of wastage due to degradation of food products/vegetables/fruits by use of plastic packaging
· Several medical applications including Angioplasty of heart, catheters, implants etc.
· Fuel saving by weight reduction of automobile with increasing use of light weight plastic parts
· Increased agricultural productivity due to the use of plastics in the modern cultivation techniques (drip irrigation, green house etc)
· Saving of water by use of plastic in canal lining as well as pipes in carrying water to distant places
· Distribution of electric power with the help of plastic insulated cables
· Ease of communication by use of plastic in telephones, cell phones, etc.
· Saving of scarce resources like wood, leather by use of plastics instead of these material in building as well as footwear
· Prevention of deforestation by saving paper and using plastic instead.

What is very important is that the Government should try to find practical solution to the basic problem on lack of discipline of our Indian society where in every Indian has in born culture of keeping oneself clean and litter the environment. While we agree that the Indian society would take another 50 years to improve the discipline but banning is not the answer. Instead we recommend following steps to curb the problems of choking of drains because of littered plastic products:

1. Allow use of 20 micron thick plastic bags( minimum thickness)

2. For prevention on manufacture of thinner bags the manufacturers of these bags should be asked to print their names/addresses. This will allow not let the manufacturers of thinner films/bags escape easily.

3. The municipality, with the help of plastic industry develops more efficient disposal and collection systems.

4. The municipality should set up many disposal collection bins at public places and develop an efficient system of collecting the disposed plastic products from these bins.

5. The municipality should set up an incineration project to utilize the waste plastic products as they have inherently very high energy.

6. The Government should develop a mass campaign to educate the common mass.

7. The Government in collaboration with the plastic industry should develop an education module that can be taught to the students in all public schools.

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