Mumbai: Plastic, an item that has become an integral part of a consumer’s lifestyle, will no longer be a legal item in India’s second most populous state, Maharashtra from June 23. Even if not in totality, the ban does aim to target a large chunk of the usage in the form of bags (under 50 microns), spoons, forks, cups, glasses, plastic pouches for liquid, plastic packaging food items, plastic and thermocol decorations. To effectively implement the ban in the capital city of Mumbai 249 inspectors will keep a strict vigilance on citizens from Saturday onwards.
Government authorities are all set to roll out the much-needed ban in Mumbai. But the real question is: Are the people ready to take on the challenge of beating plastic menace by making an eco-friendly switch? Are vendors aware enough to identify the banned plastic items in their day-to-day wares? Are the alternatives to banned plastic items readily available in the market? Can a small-time sabziwaala afford to buy a cloth bag which may come at a high price?
Here’s a look at how vendors, sabzi mandis, restaurants, shopkeepers, street hawkers are gearing up to make the big switch:
Gearing Up For Plastic Ban: Sabzi Mandis (Wholesale Vegetable Markets)
In terms of business, the ban on polythene bags is likely to affect the vegetable and fruit sellers the most considering the volumes of bags they buy everyday from retailers to give out their products. Mumbai’s famous Dadar market, which opens around 5 in the morning, uses nearly 1 tonne of plastic bags on a daily basis. Nearly 700 vegetable vendors sit at the humoungous market, with per vendor using atleast 1,200 bags everyday.
Two days before the ban, when NDTV visited wholesale vegetable markets to check the situation, it found rampant usage of plastic bags.
I am aware of the plastic ban but even today (June 20) I purchased six packets (50 bags per packet). In May I did try and stopped giving plastic bags for a week but discontinued it after I suffered a loss of Rs 4,000. As the government is gearing up for implementing the ban, I am preparing myself for the losses I will suffer post the ban, says Amarchand Gupta, a vegetable vendor who sits at Dadar market.
While Amarchand fears a huge business loss, vegetable vendor Ravi Kishan at Malad station is enthusiastic about the ban, “I opted for newspaper wraps immediately after the ban was announced. When buyers complain of the vegetable’s becoming soggy, I tell them either to get their own bags or give them an extra piece of paper. I’ll prefer losing customers over paying hefty fines.”
Abdullah, a fruit vendor who sits at Mahatma Phule market in south Mumbai believes the problem is not of using plastic but discarding them irresponsibly.
Littering is the main problem. If each one of the us ensures that we do not dump polythenes anywhere and reuse it, it can significantly solve the plastic crisis and ban can be avoided.
Abdullah, who has been using plastic bags for 14 years, has already made a switch to cloth bags. However, the cloth bags are not feasible he says, “Apart from the high cost (almost double the price of polythenes), the cloth bags are not strong enough to hold more than five kilos. At times I have to give two bags so that it doesn’t tear. Other options are costly.”
Street Hawkers: Mixed Reactions To Plastic Ban
34-year-old Subhash Mane in Vasai owns a popular street food joint that offers mouth-watering delicacies like chaat, sandwiches, dosas, etc. For years, he has been using cutlery including plastic spoons, cups, glasses, plates to give out food. Though he has not yet ditched plastic completely, the process has begun.
“I have stopped giving plastic bags for take-aways and instead of plastic plates I serve the food on newspaper sheets now. But I do not know the alternatives to disposable spoons and cups. I had even asked the municipal officers to suggest options but there was no response,” says Subhash.
Coconut vendors are another community which is likely to be affected the most as they use straws in bulk and poly bags (used to pour coconut water).
Though the ban is a good move to tackle state’s plastic crisis, it has already started to affect my livelihood. I do not give bags to my regular customers as they get their own containers to fill the coconut water. But to others when I refuse, they simply go to the next coconut water seller, says Malik who supplies coconut water to over 100 families in Oberoi Garden city of Goregaon.
Similarly, the juice centres are also facing the brunt of the ban, “After the civic officials warned us, we started to use glass. We have to wash them every now and then which means paying extra to buy additional water. I have compensated that by increasing the juice rates,” says Maganlal who own a juice stall in Mulund.
Meanwhile, sellers on Colaba Causeway, a fashion street highly popular among the youth, have stopped giving plastic bags to their customers, “It is a good thing that the college youth always have their bags with them. It has been two months since I stopped giving bags and so far, I have not faced any problems,” says one of the hawkers.
On a more positive note, customers at Zameer chicken and mutton shop in Null Bazar road are carrying their own containers to take wet food products. “We have now started wrapping the chicken and mutton in newspaper but many of our customers bring their own dabbas with them,” said a shopkeeper.
Restaurants/Food Chains: Plastic Out, Eco-Friendly Cutlery In
Around 300 eating joints and 100 general trade stores in Mumbai have already given up plastic cutleries, thanks to the efforts of Abhishek Agarwal, founder of Pappco Greenware company that provides eco-friendly cutlery.
Post the announcement of ban, the market dynamics are changing. Earlier, we used to go the eating places and convince the owners to buy out products but now the tables have turned. In the last two months we have received orders from innumerable restaurants but now the problem is the insufficient supply.
On a daily basis, his company provides 2000-1,00,000 biodegradable straws. Though the company’s products, which are made from sugarcane fibre, are expensive than the plastic cutleries restaurants are now willing to pay the high price.
American fast food company McDonald’s is in the transition phase. Except the plastic lid, all the other plastic items have been replaced. It has been more than a month since wooden spoons and forks, straws made from corn starch and paper cups to serve soft drinks were introduced by the franchise. And as for the take ways they have always used paper bags.
Popular café Starbucks has replaced plastic straws with paper straws.
At Starbucks, we are committed to environmental sustainability and we are steadfast in our support to related efforts. We use paper bags across our stores in India and provide glassware or ceramic options for items consumed in-store, and work to provide sustainable solutions for take-away. At Starbucks, sustainability has always been a focused endeavour and we are constantly working towards greener alternatives, said a Tata Starbucks spokesperson.
Family restaurant Shiv Sagar near Marine Drive will not give out plastic bags to the customers post June 23. The take-way food will be packed in a plastic containers, though they have been banned, “We are in the process of finding an alternative to plastic containers but till we do, we will give the food in plastic containers,” says the Manager of the hotel.
More than 20 states in India have imposed a ban on plastic including the capital city of Delhi. Monitoring and sustaining the plastic ban is something that most of the state have failed in. In order to ensure that Maharashtra doesn’t fall prey to the same issues, the state government has placed a hefty fine that goes upto Rs 25,000 in case of violations. The plastic manufacturers are already up in arms and have gone to court against the ban. The High Court has pushed the hearing to July 20, a month before the ban comes into effect.
On their part, civic bodies were further given the responsibility of further handling and managing the confiscated plastic items in their respective cities. In the last three months, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) came out with several measures to implement the ban smoothly. Toll free numbers (1800-222357) to request a plastic pick-up service at home, 100 plastic collection centres across the city for citizens to dump plastic items, rath yatras to spread awareness and providing contact details of retailers with plastic alternatives on government portal, were few steps by taken by the BMC.
The civic body has even organised a massive three-day workshop cum exhibition where over 60 vendors will display their bio-degradable plastic alternatives. Citizens can visit the exhibition on any of the three days (from 11am to 8 pm, National Sports Club, Worli) and choose a plastic alternative as per their requirement.