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India’s Ban on Single Use Plastics Makes Waves

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has an ambitious plan to end all use of single-use plastic in India by 2022. As a first step, a ban on single use plastics went into effect in June in the Indian state of Maharashtra, in which Mumbai is located. The ban includes bags, food containers, utensils, cups, and packaging.

A number of large multinational companies like Amazon, H&M, Pepsi, McDonalds, Starbuck, and Coca Cola, together with or through plastics industry and other business associations, lobbied to delay or soften the ban. They requested seven years to come up with alternatives. Some companies have asked, to no avail, for an outright exemption.

The main issue for the industry is the purported loss revenue and jobs. Industry estimates state that the Maharashtra ban alone will cost $2.2 billion a year and about 300,000 jobs. According to industry officials, switching to other materials like cardboard could cost almost a third more than plastic.

A week after the ban went into effect, the government allowed e-commerce vendors three months to come into compliance on packaging and exempted certain types of plastic packaging for medical equipment and drugs. Some adjustments were also made with regard to beverage bottles, though a buyback program for empties is required. The only other leniency given by the government been to allow neighborhood grocery stores to pack simple commodities like rice in plastic as long as they take the bags back for recycling. Even with the drawbacks cited by industry opponents, Maharashtra officials seem committed to enforcing the ban. Squads have raided a variety of business establishments imposing fines and the threat of jail time for compliance infractions.