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India: Ban on Single-Use Plastic

Updated: Nov 22, 2022

Ottilie Von Henning reports on the ban of single-use plastics in India and the backlash Prime Minister Narendra Modi has received from affected corporations.

Photo by Sara Bakhshi


Currently, India is the third highest polluter in the world and is estimated to generate 14 million tons of un-recyclable plastic each year. With Prime Minister Narendra Modi proposing a new ban in 2019 to eliminate all single-use plastics by 2022, the Indian government has sought to temper climate change with long-overdue action.

What are Single-use Plastics?

Single-use plastics are products made predominantly from fossil fuel–based chemicals (petrochemicals) and are meant to be disposed of right after use—often, in mere minutes. Although plastics - a chain of synthetic polymers - were invented in the mid-19th century, their popularity grew in the 1970s to become one of the primary offenders in the escalation of global warming. More than half of non-fibre plastic comes from packaging alone, most of which is for single-use products.



Since the 1950s, 8.3 billion tons of plastic has been produced overall, with the last 15 years being responsible for 50% of this total. Now, 8 million tons of single-use plastic waste is released into the oceans per year from coastal nations. Modi’s new ban is an attempt to eliminate one of the major environmental enemies on the planet, with 380 million tons of plastic produced each year and half destined for single-use products, like packaging, cutlery, and straws (all of which have been forbidden in EU Market States).

As a result, India is home to vast trash mountains that loom over the outskirts of major cities, with the River Ganges being the second largest plastic contributor to the world’s oceans before China’s Yangtze. One trash mountain looms in Ghazipur, east of New Delhi, and is just months away from rising higher than the Taj Mahal at 73 meters tall, making the implementation of Modi’s ban as urgent as ever.



The Backlash from Corporations


The ban has, nonetheless, been met with significant opposition. Several corporations, such as PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, India’s Parle Agro Pvt., David and Amul, have all protested the including of plastic straws in the ban, arguing their current demand is far too large to sustain the necessary changes.

It is estimated that Indian manufacturers of biodegradable plastic can meet up to 8% of demands and the beverage companies would be unable to import more that 20% of their desired amounts. Schauna Chauchan, chief excectuive officer of Parle Agro Pvt., one of India’s largest beverage makers, has commented on Modi’s expectations, saying:


“The industry is being forced to import at a time when costs are soaring and there are huge disruptions in shipping globally” (Schauna Chauhan, Business Standard).

A plethora of issues have been opened up for these companies, not to mention the fact that paper straws could add between 0.25 and 1.25 rupees to the cost of each unit, according to Kotak Institutional Equities. Such a surge in prices would certainly damage the business and their profit margins and those 1,000,000 employees working for the industry, yet these financial losses are merely collateral damage in the quest to save the world from climate change.


In India, 88,000 companies produce single-use plastics, and US consumers throw away at least 170 million plastic straws each day produced by companies such as Parle Agro Pvt. Considering 80% of marine litter is plastic, this can no longer be ignored by the Indian government, hence Modi’s desire to act immediately.



Contributing to Change


Despite having a population of 1.4 billion, India has not been a historical contributor to the greenhouse gas emissions. Between 1870 and 2019, India only contributed 4%of the global total. Moreover, as the third highest polluter, India generates 2.88 CO2 gigatonnes (Gt) annually.


Initially, this certainly strikes as a large number, but compared with China as the highest polluter at 10.6 Gt and the second highest polluter the United States at 5 Gt, India’s ban cannot be the only source of resolve if the globe is to fight climate change.

Once plastics enter the ocean, they are difficult to retrieve. Mechanical systems, such as the Mr. Trash Wheel in Maryland’s Baltimore Harbor, is effective in collecting larger pieces of plastics, but microplastics are virtually impossible to recover. Therefore, Modi setting the ambitious goal of cutting emissions by 22% before 2030 will be an incredible feat towards reducing plastic waste, but not without the aid of other countries in achieving substantial change.

 

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