India has held off imposing a blanket ban on single-use plastics to combat pollution, officials said on Tuesday, a measure seen as too disruptive for industry at a time when it is coping with an economic slowdown and job losses. The plan was for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to outlaw six items on Wednesday, the 150th anniversary of the birth of independence leader Mahatma Gandhi, as part of a broader campaign to rid India of single-use plastics by 2022.
But two officials said there would be no immediate move to ban plastic bags, cups, plates, small bottles, straws and certain types of sachets and instead the government would try to curb their use. For now, government will ask states to enforce existing rules against storing, manufacturing and using some single-use plastic products such as polythene bags and styrofoam, Chandra Kishore Mishra, the top bureaucrat at the ministry of environment, told Reuters.
"There is no new ban order being issued," Mishra said. "Now, it's a question of telling people about the ill-effects of plastic, of collecting and sending for recycling so people don't litter." The government's proposed countrywide ban had dismayed consumer firms, which use plastic in packaging for everything from sodas and biscuits to ketchup and shampoo.
The Confederation of Indian Industry, a lobby group, said the move had become an existential issue for several economic sectors because alternatives were not immediately available. It said small-sized plastic bottles used for pharmaceutical or health products should be exempted as there is no alternate available. Sachets made from so-called multi-layered packaging should also not be banned, as that could disrupt supplies of products like biscuits, salt and milk, the confederation said.
"There was a conscious decision within the government not to hit businesses hard for now and discourage use of plastic only on a voluntary basis," said an official working on policy. He declined to be identified in line with government rules. Plastic waste is at epidemic proportions in the world's oceans with an estimated 100 million tonnes dumped there to date, according to the United Nations. Scientists have found large amounts of micro plastic in the intestines of deep-dwelling ocean mammals like whales. India, which uses about 14 million tonnes of plastic annually, lacks an organized system for management of plastic waste, leading to widespread littering. "The toxins, poisons and persistent pollutants present in some of these plastic products leach and enter human bodies where they cause several diseases, including cancer," said Chitra Mukherjee, head of advocacy and policy at Delhi-based Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group.