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Disposing of Disposable Plastic in Delhi

Date: 16-Feb-17
Author: Carol Warwick

Image Credit Reuters © Claire Bell

Image Credit Reuters

India has announced a ban on all forms of disposable plastic across the capital Delhi. The ban came into effect 1 January 2017 and single-use items including plastic cups, bags, plates, and cutlery are now prohibited in the National Capital Territory area.

India’s National Green Tribunal (NGT) introduced the ban in response to concerns over the health impacts of air and water pollution caused by the illegal burning of plastics and other rubbish. The NGT cited three major dumping sites in the region - Okhla, Gazipur and Bhalswa – as the most problematic. In a statement the NGT said “Each of these sites is a depiction of the mess that can be created for [the] environment and health of [the] people of Delhi.”

India banned the production of plastic bags in 2002 because many cows were ingesting plastics as they grazed on roadsides. Many nations have fully banned single-use lightweight plastic bags* including Morocco, Tanzania, and Bangladesh where bags regularly caused flooding by blocking drains during monsoons. Other countries have introduced levies which are passed onto consumers at the point of purchase, and in many cases (Hong Kong and Ireland) this has led to a dramatic decrease in the use of single-use plastic bags.

Closer to home South Australia, the ACT, Northern Territory, Tasmania, and Fremantle WA have all banned lightweight plastic bags, with Queensland to follow in 2018.

But the new ban in India goes a step further, bringing Dehli in line with France, which last year announced it would ban disposable plastic plates, cups, and utensils by 2025.

Disposable plastic cutlery and crockery are most commonly made from oil, so rely heavily on carbon-intensive manufacturing processes and high resource consumption.

What About Recycling?

In Australia plastic plates and cutlery cannot be easily recycled. Plastic plates are flat so recycling machines will often mistakenly sort them as paper, causing contamination problems and waste. Plastic cutlery is the wrong shape to be correctly sorted by recycling machines, which are designed to separate containers like bottles and tubs. These items usually end up in landfill and take centuries to break down. However cups made from rigid plastic can be recycled as they act like containers in the recycling process.

In most areas of Australia plastic bags are the biggest problem in the recycling system. They get caught in the wheels and cogs of recycling facilities’ conveyor belts causing significant delays. (Many councils around Perth as well as Ballina and Lismore in NSW and Moreland in Victoria have different systems and can accept plastic bags.)

Soft plastics (which can be scrunched into a ball) such as single-use shopping bags and bags for bread, dry cleaning, cereal, rice, and pasta can be recycled through the REDcycle program. REDcycle collection points can be found at most metro Coles stores and some Woolworths/Safeway supermarkets. Since the program launched in 2012 it has diverted 150 million pieces of plastic from landfill.

Alternatives are now more widely available from companies producing single-use utensils and crockery from recycled paper, bamboo, and sugarcane, which are biodegradable. Last year Bakey’s, an Indian-based company, launched the world’s first edible cutlery. Made from sorghum, rice and wheat flower, Bakey’s cutlery comes in three flavours; plain, sweet or savoury, can be used with hot foods and liquids for 10 minutes, and is fully biodegradable.

The production and consumption of single-use items is an ongoing environmental problem, especially if there is no effective recycling program in place. With India and France taking the lead it will be interesting to see if others will follow.

Positive Action

*The thickness (measured in microns) of bags which have been banned varies by nation.

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Carol                                             Warwick
Author: Carol Warwick

Carol worked at Planet Ark in the PR and Media Team in 2017.

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