Monday, March 2, 2009


Plastic bags: The scourge of wildlife

Plastic bags are a menace to our environment. Not only do they clog the municipal drains and disposal outlets, but also are breeding grounds for mosquitoes which cause and spread malaria and the dengue fevers. In India like in other countries such as Bangladesh and Bhutan, the poly bags have been banned but not in Pakistan.

Here in Lahore, Pakistan’s second largest city, the cantonment authorities too introduced a ban last year. But it did not succeed as the alternative was a paper bag of very low grammage. The tenacity of these paper bags was so poor that they busted on the way to shoppers’ homes. Gradually the ban became ineffective and now again the poly bags are being used by shoppers in the cantonment as well. The damage to environment, however, continues.

By Randeep Ramesh in Delhi

The global battle against plastic took a draconian turn recently when officials in Delhi announced that the penalty for carrying a polythene shopping bag would be five years in prison. Officials in India's capital have decided that the only way to stem the rising tide of rubbish is to completely outlaw the plastic shopping bag. According to an official note, the "use, storage and sale" of plastic bags of any kind or thickness will be banned.

The new guideline means that customers, shopkeepers, hoteliers and hospital staff face a 100,000 rupee fine and a possible jail sentence for using non-biodegradable bags.

Delhi has been steadily filling up with plastic bags in recent years as the economy boomed and western-style shopping malls sprang up in the city.

There are no reliable figures on bag use but environmentalists say more than 10 million are used in the capital every day. Not only are the streets littered with them, they clog the drains and polythene takes hundreds of years to decompose.

To begin with, the ban will be lightly enforced, giving people time to switch to jute, cotton, recycled paper and compostable bags
Officials say that it will be up to the court to decide on how harsh a sentence an offender might face.”Delhi has a population of 16 million which means we cannot enforce [the new law] overnight”, said J.K. Dadoo, Delhi’s top environment official.

"But we want people to understand that they will not get away with (using plastic bags), if they choose to defy the law repeatedly, then the court has the measures it deems necessary to fit.”
Civil servants said that punitive measures were needed after a law prohibiting all but the thinnest plastic bags – with sides no thicker than 0.04mm – was ignored.

Green groups welcomed the tough new measures. Shop-owners had long complained that no viable alternatives exist in India for plastic bags. However, the authorities appear to have been swayed by environmentalists who pointed out that used bags were clogging drains and so providing breeding grounds for malaria and dengue fever.

 There is ample evidence that prohibition can work: poor countries such as Rwanda, Bhutan and Bangladesh have bans.

The first targets in Delhi will be the industrial units that manufacture the plastic bags in the capital, which officials say will be closed down.

Bangladesh was the first country to ban plastic bags in 2002 amid worries that they were blocking drains during the monsoon. Taiwan, Australia, Rwanda and Singapore have since moved to ban, discourage or promote reuse of plastic bags, hundreds of billions of which are handed out free each year.

Towns and cities in India, the US and UK have followed. Denmark and Ireland have both experimented with taxing plastic bags. Dublin said the tax, imposed in 2002, had reduced usage by more than 95 per cent.

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