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Plastics Not Leaving

Goa government must wake up and act to make the state plastic-free

The much-drummed plastic ban seems to be a goal nearly abandoned by the state government. Consignments of plastic bags below 50 microns are coming illegally without any check to Goa from other states and being sold and used by traders and shopkeepers. The ban on use of plastic bags below 50 microns was announced by the municipal bodies of Panaji, Bicholim, Vasco, Mapusa and Margao; other municipalities and panchayats are yet to decide on it. The state government announced a ban several times in the past two decades but failed to effectively implement it. The first ban came into effect on August 15, 2000 and the last one was announced from October 2, 2018. The failure to implement the ban effectively has been admitted by the mayor of the Corporation of the City of Panaji Udai Madkaikar who has appealed to Chief Minister Pramod Sawant to announce a statewide ban on use of plastic bags below the permissible limits as banning in some areas while allowing its use in other areas allows large scope for illegal imports and use violations.

The local plastic bag manufacturing industry says that the ban on plastic bags below 50 microns in limited areas was not working. The industry, which has 15 units, has stopped manufacturing plastic bags below 50 microns. According to them, tonne of plastic bags below 50 microns are being illegally brought in on daily basis from Hubballi, Kolhapur and other cities. They have also exposed that the soft bags being used by vendors in the Panaji fish market as non-plastic is actually plastic as it is made from polypropylene. Ineffective enforcement has encouraged traders and vendors to buy banned plastic bags as they come cheaper. It is a pity that the state government has not made the local plastic bag manufacturing industry an important partner in the effective implementation of the ban. The entrepreneurs have been producing environment-friendly alternatives, but the government is not helping them in any way. The local industry is facing a tough time as there are no buyers for their environmentally-friendly bags. If the government does not stop illegal imports of banned plastics the local units might have to close down. And that would make an effective ban on plastics below 50 microns even more difficult to achieve. 

According to the Goa Plastic Waste Management Rules, all panchayats and municipalities are bound to implement the ban on plastic bags below 50 microns. It is strange that though all the local bodies pledged to implement the plastic ban they shied away from putting it into practice. Some local bodies which have notified implementation of the ban, such as the CCP, have been lax in enforcing it. The civic bodies and panchayats can no more shirk their responsibility toward the plastic-free mission. They are accountable for setting up systems of inspection, monitoring and imposing penalties in order to deter illegal trade in plastic bags below 50 microns. The state government would have to establishing a strong checking system for the consignments of plastic bags brought in from other states. Without a strong commitment to rid Goa of plastics little can be achieved.

It is time that the government wakes up to threat to the environment and human and animal life posed by use of plastic bags below 50 microns and enforces a statewide ban in collaboration with the panchayati raj institutions. Accumulation of plastics adversely affects natural processes. Animals such as cows end up having plastics in their stomachs. Use of chemicals in plastic production can lead to harmful effects that can be carcinogenic and promote endocrine disruption. However, Chief Minister Pramod Sawant needs to note that an effective plastic ban would not be possible without providing alternatives to traders, vendors and the people at large. Until the local plastic bag manufacturers brought it to light, Goans were under the impression that the soft bags in which fish vendors used to give fish to the customers were actually plastic because they were made from a chemical polypropylene. Although the state government has been talking of a plastic-free Goa they have been ostrich-like as far as thinking of substitutes to the replacement of plastic bags.

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