India bans some single-use plastic products to fight pollution, but leaves plenty on the table
A set of 19 single-use plastic products have now been banned in India as part of a wider effort to tackle plastic waste. The ban includes products such as headphones, plastic balloon sticks, candy and ice cream, wrappers, cutlery and straws, but excludes thousands of other plastic products, such as bottles of water and bags of crisps.
Simply put, single-use plastics refer to plastic items that are used only once and then thrown away, often within minutes. They are most often used for packaging and serving items, such as bottles, bags and wraps, and are a clear example of today’s throwaway culture, prioritizing convenience over durability and long-term impacts.
Plastic makers had asked the government to delay the move, arguing it would lead to job losses and high inflation. But India’s Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav told a press briefing that the ban had been in the works for a year and would not be delayed. Plastic bags were already banned by the government late last year and now the movement has spread to a wider range of plastic products.
A 2021 report found that single-use plastics account for a third of all plastic produced globally, 98% of which is made from fossil fuels. Single-use plastics also account for the bulk of discarded plastic. India is in the top 100 countries producing single-use plastic waste, with 11.8 million metric tons generated each year. It’s also one of the countries that mishandles most plastic on Earth (although on a per capita basis it’s not quite as bad).
Ban on single-use plastics
India said the prohibited items were chosen keeping in mind the availability of alternatives, such as plantain trays, wooden ice cream sticks and bamboo spoons. Speaking to local media, Environment Ministry officials said all the items are very difficult to collect due to their small size, which makes recycling difficult.
As is often the case with plastic policies, many companies believe the policy goes too far, while environmental groups believe it does not go far enough. Satish Sinha, from India’s environmental group Toxic Links, described the list of banned items as “low hanging fruit”. In the single-use plastic industry in India, the production and sale of such items is very low, Sinha argued. The biggest share of single-use plastics is packaging, which is not addressed at all with the new move.
This is not the first time India has considered a plastic ban, but previous efforts have focused only on specific regions of the country, with varying degrees of success. The country lacks a nationally organized system to tackle plastic waste, which in many cases leads to abundant litter, and the plastic accumulates or ends up in rivers that dump it into the oceans. .
Earlier this year, nearly every country agreed to create an agreement that will legally bind countries to address the full lifespan of plastics, from production to disposal. The UN estimates that we have gone from two million tonnes of plastics produced in 1950 to 400 million tonnes today – with 12 million tonnes reaching the oceans each year.
Meanwhile, bans on single-use plastics around the world appear to be expanding. Bangladesh was among the first to ban thin plastic bags in 2002. In the United States, eight states have already banned single-use plastic bags, starting with California in 2014. In the EU, a directive was formalized last year, banning certain single-use plastic bags. use plastics for which alternatives are available.