Thoughts ridden by kash May 2, 2009

Reducing plastic bag usage

Reduce plastic waste

Plastic bag as defined at Wikipedia is a type of flexible packaging made of thin, flexible, plastic film. Plastic bags are used for containing and transporting foods, produce, powders, ice, chemicals, waste, etc. Whenever we think of plastic bag, we always think of carry bags that we carry to shopping malls. But I never thought about plastics that are used to package ready made foods, liquids, industrial products etc. When we buy an electronic item, it almost always comes packed in a plastic covering or maybe a thermocol covering. The reason is probably to protect the product from the environment. Its ironic though that the same plastic also harms the environment at the same time.

Many corporates have pledged or are pledging to reduce their plastic bag usage by some year or date in the future. Companies have started to reduce their impact on the environment by some way or the other. One example is that of Marks and Spencer. The stores of the company were able to reduce the plastic bag usage by 85%. They achieved this by charging customers to use a plastic bag.

This brings me to an interesting point. Should the Marks and Spencer stop giving out plastic bags altogether. That is the should UK ban plastic bags altogether. Will that be the right solution to bring down plastic usage? Economics states that it will not work. Atanu Dey, in one of his posts, stated that:

For every plastic bag manufactured, collect a disposal fee. Let’s say it is Re 0.10. This fee gets passed on to the consumers – the people who ultimately decide whether to accept a plastic bag at the store or to bring their own re-usable bag, the people who decide whether to chuck the plastic bags on the streets after use, etc

Start charging people for plastic bags and it should reduce the usage considerably. People not wanting to pay the extra rupee would start bringing their own reusable bags. Atanu’s idea did come into play at M&S and it was successful.

The idea got implemented in the UK and it was successful. Would the Indians react in the same way as the English did? Some skepticism is sure to exist in the minds of those who might be thinking of this. One reason would be the cost of the plastic bags. If a plastic bag purchased in bulk costs as less as 10 paise per bag (probably lesser), then why would any shopkeeper bother to charge Re 1. for the bag? Why would he/she want to risk losing a customer for a 90p? Though the shopkeeper has noble thoughts in his/her mind, is it worth the risk? The risk here is that the customer might think on the terms that the shopkeeper is not customer-centric and does not care about me since he does not even bother to give me a bag for my convenience and even if he offers one, then he charges for it. Nevertheless, someone has to take the lead and as always, it has to be the government. If it bothers to do something about the environment then.

In fact, the govt. did wake up but on the wrong side of the bed. The State Govt. of Maharastra responded by banning plastic bags across major cities in the state. But the proliferation of plastic bags is still the same and may, in fact, have increased due to the ban. As is the case with illicit liquor in Gujarat. More you try to stop something, the more faster it proliferates. In such a scenario, charging people for plastic bags does seem like a good idea. And as Atanu suggested, start collection centers so that every bag handed in, generates revenue for the rag-pickers and of course, we get a plastic-free India in return.

Is the govt. listening?


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