Plastic ban just 3 months away, but where is the plan?

When the ban on plastic comes into force across Tamil Nadu from January, manufacture, sale and use of carry bags “irrespective of their thickness” will be a criminal offence. Violations may attract a jail term of up to five years with or without penalty of up to `1 lakh.

Although state environment minister K C Karuppannan, in an interview to TOI, had said the state was prepared to implement this ambitious project, officials in Greater Chennai Corporation – the city’s implementing authority — said they did not have a plan or dedicated workforce to do so.

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The government order issued by the department of environment and forest on June 25, which was notified in the state gazette two days later, enlists plastic carry bags or plastic flags, plastic sheets used for wrapping food, plastic plates and tumblers, plastic-coated tea cups, water pouches and packets, and plastic straws as forbidden items.

But records show that the corporation has not even held meetings with the stakeholders – manufacturers and users – to lay a roadmap to phase out these products. “The pollution control board is the nodal agency. They will plan ways to implement the ban, we will follow instructions. It can’t be difficult as it is a ban on just throwaway plastic and not a complete ban on plastic,” said a senior official.

On September 2, nodal officers and senior environment officials met at the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board headquarters to discuss “issues and alternatives” for the ban. “We will submit the report to the government. After that in a month we will create public awareness. We are all set,” Karuppanan said.

But activists said the government has got it wrong. “At this rate, implementation of the ban will be extremely chaotic. Carry bags have a big market. Unlike other cities that have banned plastic below 50 microns, Tamil Nadu has proposed a complete ban. Which means everything including things like bin liners have to go,” city-based civic activist Dharmesh Shah who works for the NGO Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives. “We should have at least held a meeting with manufacturers and users. A separate wing should have been set up by the corporation,” he said.

While announcing the ban in the assembly, chief minister Edappadi K Palaniswami had said cities and their water sources were visibly affected by plastic pollution. Coastline, marshlands and water bodies are plagued by floating plastic litter. During monsoons, they clog drains and cause floods. He had said the directorate of public health had reported increase in mosquito-borne diseases as plastic containers serve as a breeding ground for aedes mosquitoes.

But for this big a policy, there is lack of numerical evidence said environmental and waste management consultant Rajesh Rangarajan, regional manager south with Wateraid India. “Corporation is yet to give out official statistics on the amount of plastic it sends to the landfills every day or the consumption by the city. Nearly 15% of the inorganic waste generated is one-time use plastic. We need an economic policy involving all stake holders.”

Commissioner D Karthikeyan did not respond to calls or messages from TOI.