Modi’s plastic straw ban leaves Indian consumers thirsty


Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has a reputation for imposing policies suddenly on an unprepared nation, but when he pledged in 2019 to eliminate single-use plastics, food and beverage makers had years to prepare. When the first tranche of items was banned this month, they weren’t ready.

Plastic straws are attached to many of the ubiquitous Tetra Paks of juices and other beverages sold in the country. With 19 single-use plastic items banned from July 1, including the straws, companies including Dabur India Ltd. and Parle Agro Pvt., one of the nation’s largest beverage makers, have been racing to replace them with imported paper versions. Vendors say the change has created a shortage and some stocks of soft drinks boxes have run out.

Modi’s 2019 pledge to eliminate single-use plastics by the end of 2022 set the most ambitious goal in Asia-Pacific. The government has repeatedly said that industry has had time to prepare for the change.

But the challenge for industry to meet the deadline has been complicated by the lack of domestic alternatives and the pandemic, which snarled supply chains, increasing competition among global buyers.

“The industry is being forced to import at a time when costs are soaring and there are huge disruptions in shipping globally,” said Schauna Chauhan, chief executive officer of Parle Agro in an email.

Modi’s goal is part of a growing global attempt to eliminate one of the biggest environmental scourges on the planet. Of the 380 million tons of plastic produced each year, about half is for single-use items like packaging, cutlery and straws.

At least 14 million tons of plastic gets swept into the oceans each year. But even rich nations are struggling to eliminate the problem. US consumers throw away at least 170 million plastic straws each day by one estimate, despite several cities banning or restricting their use.

In India, around 88,000 companies produce single-use plastic products, employing about 1 million people, according to Kishore P. Sampat, president of the All India Plastics Manufacturers Association.

Special enforcement squads have been set up to target urban “hotspots” of single-use plastics and will conduct surprise inspections and impose heavy fines on defaulters, the environment ministry said.

Under the 1986 Environment Protection Act, offenders could face a penalty of up to 100,000 rupees and/or a jail term.

The Indian government plans to extend the single-use plastic ban to include thicker plastic bags by the end of the year, even as many vendors continue to argue that the nation isn’t ready.



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