Plastic bags, measuring less than 50 microns, are banned in Delhi and, yet, markets are overflowing with them, even choking on them.
Their use had taken a back seat following a government crackdown in August 2017, after the National Green Tribunal banned their use and imposed a penalty of Rs 5,000 on each offender. But the menace is far from over. With the government and civic agencies loosening their grip, these bags have resurfaced in markets.
Even though the state government claims to have seized thousands of kilos of polythene bags, a visit to any market, local shop or street vendor will reveal that the picture is still as grim as it was 10 months ago before the crackdown began.
“Polythene bags less than 50 microns are back in full force. Their circulation might have stopped in shopping malls and big retail outlets, but vendors and local shops are still using these bags and disposable plastic glasses widely,” Vinod Jain, who had taken the matter of plastic menace to the court in 2009, said.
In some shops, storekeepers were found dispensing bags that they claimed were above 50 microns.
Some claimed they were using biodegradable bags. But experts have questioned these claims.
“How do you prove that they are 50 microns and more? Who has measured them? Did the regulators check these bags? Anyone can come up with a plastic bag with a line printed on it claiming that they are more than 50 microns. Only a blanket ban can stop this menace,” Chitra Mukherjee, head of programmes at Chintan, an NGO, said.
Over the past 10 months, the Delhi government and civic agencies have seized more than 30,000 kilos of banned polythene bags. “An amount of Rs 31.8 lakh has been collected as penalty from traders for storing, selling and manufacturing such bags,” a senior official of the state environment department said.
Even though there was some uncertainty in the initial stages about how government agencies would dispose of the seized bags, two of the three corporations started disposing of them at the waste-to-energy plants.
A senior official of East Delhi Municipal Corporation said, “We are stocking the seized plastic and are waiting for the Central Pollution Control Board and the Delhi Pollution Control Committee to notify a list of recyclers who can dispose of them in an environment friendly manner. The NGT had directed these two bodies to finalise the list.”
Officials of the South Delhi Municipal Corporation and North Delhi Municipal Corporation said seized plastic bags are being incinerated at the waste-to-energy plant. “Plastic below 50 microns is mostly non-recyclable. So the only option is to dispose of them at these plants,” an official of the SDMC said.