SUP ban scenario and availability of alternatives in India
The government of India has successfully implemented a nationwide single-use plastic (SUP) ban from July 1, 2022. Manufacturers, traders, end-users and the government are somewhat confused about the SUP policy, products and alternatives. Due to the unavailability of proper alternatives, the government has exempted some industries from the SUP ban and allowed them to use the existing packaging for their products.
Some packaging like potato chips and other snacks packaging, milk and dairy products packaging, pharmaceutical product packaging, etc. are still made from conventional plastics. Replacing them with sustainable alternatives required more effort on dedicated R&D. Moreover, raw materials should be available domestically to cope with quantity and hassle-free supply. More companies are diverting to paper packaging to be on the safe side from the SUP ban. But, is paper really sustainable?
Many corporates are actively looking for better alternatives for their packaging. Same time, are they also contributing to developing sustainable packaging in-house? Are they investing in R & D to develop better packaging alternatives? Currently, big companies are searching for better packaging options from the market. Instead, they should make effort to develop in-house and guide other small and medium-scale industries to follow the newly developed packaging option.
Moreover, the government has not implemented the SUP ban very strictly. I still see polythene bags and other plastic products in the market, which are banned. But, the government is also taking slow actions against SUP manufacturers and traders. In a phased manner, the plastic products will be cleaned completely from the market. At the same time, alternatives to SUP will be coming to market in a phased manner and the manufacturing of sustainable products will increase as demand increases.
Meanwhile, many fake sustainable products have become famous in the market. Oxo-degradable additives are being mixed with PP/PE and marketed as biodegradable. Whereas, oxo-degradable only fragments plastic products into smaller and smaller pieces without breaking them down at a molecular level. Hence, it converts plastics into microplastic, which is even worse than plastic products, because they can be mixed up with each and every resource available on Earth without being noticed by the naked eye. It pollutes groundwater, air, food, etc. A recent study shows that microplastics are found in the human body. Many companies are selling oxo-degradable materials by saying that this will make plastic material biodegradable/compostable. But, this is wrong and there is no Indian government guideline or certifications for oxo-degradable material. Plastic industrialists are also becoming victims of this trap and started using it because it is very cheap compared to compostable plastic material. It only requires adding a few percentages of material with any conventional plastic.
Generally, plastic processors are not technically sound at the material level. Hence, it is difficult for them to identify whether the material is really sustainable/compostable or not. Government certification plays a crucial role here. But, the government certification process has many limitations and is time-consuming currently. Moreover, only CIPET Chennai has the facility to test the material all over India. After the SUP ban, due to many applications for material tests, there is a long waiting period. This becomes a major drawback for industries to wait and stay idle until certification comes. Meanwhile, many fake products roam the market due to the unavailability of certified products.
Here, the government has the biggest role to play in this scenario to educate plastic processors and motivate them to convert to sustainable products. Creating awareness in the market and public is most important for the successful implementation of the SUP ban. Government should also work on starting raw material manufacturers in India. It will bring down the cost of compostable material and the market can adapt easily. Government need to educate each and every one by adding school subjects, arranging seminars, motivating the public with various schemes, blocking the supply chain and giant manufacturer of SUP products and its raw material, etc.