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India starts banning single-use plastics, including cups and straws: NPR

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Shoppers drink juice in plastic cups at a market in New Delhi on Wednesday. India on Friday banned some single-use or single-use plastic products as part of a longer plan to phase out the ubiquitous material in the nation of nearly 1.4 billion people.

Altaf Qadri/AP

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Shoppers drink juice in plastic cups at a market in New Delhi on Wednesday. India on Friday banned some single-use or single-use plastic products as part of a longer plan to phase out the ubiquitous material in the nation of nearly 1.4 billion people.

Altaf Qadri/AP

NEW DELHI – India on Friday banned some single-use or single-use plastic products as part of a federal plan to phase out the ubiquitous material in the country of nearly 1.4 billion people.

For the first phase, it has identified 19 plastic items that are not very useful but have great potential to become litter and make it illegal to manufacture, import, stock, distribute or sell them. These items range from plastic cups and straws to popsicle sticks. Some disposable plastic bags are also being phased out and replaced by thicker ones.

Thousands of other plastic products – such as bottles for water or soda or bags of chips – are not covered by the ban. But the federal government has set goals for manufacturers to be responsible for recycling or disposing of them after use.

Plastic manufacturers had appealed to the government to delay the ban, citing inflation and possible job losses. But India’s federal environment minister Bhupender Yadav said at a news conference in New Delhi that the ban had been a year in the making.

“Now that time is up,” he said.

This is not the first time India has considered a plastic ban. But previous iterations targeted specific regions, resulting in mixed success. A nationwide ban that includes not only the use of plastic, but also its production or importation was a “certain boost,” said Satyarupa Shekhar, the Asia-Pacific coordinator for the advocacy group Break Free from Plastic.

Most plastic is not recycled worldwide and millions of tons are polluting the world’s oceans, impacting wildlife and ending up in drinking water. Scientists are still trying to estimate the risks of the small pieces of broken-down plastic, known as microplastics. More than 4.1 million metric tons (4.5 million US tons) of plastic waste were generated in India in 2020, according to the federal pollution watchdog.

The creaky waste management system in the country’s fast-growing cities and towns means that much of this waste is not recycled and ultimately pollutes the environment. Nearly 13 million metric tons (14 million U.S. metric tons) of plastic waste was either littered or not recycled by the South Asian nation in 2019 — the highest in the world, according to Our World in Data.

Cutting plastic is essential for India to meet its climate goals

Making plastic releases global warming greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and India is home to factories that produce more than 243,000 metric tons (268,000 U.S. metric tons) of single-use plastic each year. This means that reducing the production and resulting waste of plastic is crucial for India to achieve its goal of reducing the intensity of emissions from economic activity by 45% in eight years.

Schoolgirls look at items that are an alternative to plastic at an event to raise awareness about eco-friendly products in New Delhi on Friday.

Altaf Qadri/AP

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Altaf Qadri/AP


Schoolgirls look at items that are an alternative to plastic at an event to raise awareness about eco-friendly products in New Delhi on Friday.

Altaf Qadri/AP

A recent study identified more than 8,000 chemical additives used in plastic processing, some of which are a thousand times more potent as greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide. Products such as single-use packaging, plastic resins, foam insulation, bottles and containers, and many others contribute to global greenhouse gas emissions.

Most plastic cannot be recycled, only degraded, and it is often incinerated or used as a fuel in waste-to-energy plants, also known as chemical recycling. While plastics are worth three to four times as much as fuel than scrap metal, these recycling processes release more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, contributing to global warming.

“Given the magnitude of the plastic crisis, this is too little. And it’s too little, both in size and coverage,” says Shekhar.

Proponents say upholding the ban is critical to its success

Ravi Agarwal, the director of Toxics Link, a New Delhi-based advocacy group focusing on waste management, added that the ban was “a good start”, but its success will depend on how well it is implemented. Actual enforcement of the law will be in the hands of individual states and urban municipal agencies.

India said the banned products were identified taking into account the availability of alternatives: bamboo spoons, plantains, wooden popsicle sticks. But in the days leading up to the ban, many sellers said they were confused.

Moti Rahman, 40, is a vegetable seller in New Delhi. Customers at his shopping cart carefully selected fresh summer produce on Tuesday before putting them in a plastic bag. Rahman said he agrees with the ban, but added that if plastic bags are discontinued without a readily available and equally cost-effective replacement, his business will be affected.

“After all, plastic is used everywhere,” he said.

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