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Green activists criticise Jairam Ramesh for supporting plastic


New Delhi : Environment minister Jairam Ramesh has come under criticism from green activists for his remark that ban on plastic bags is not the way to clean up India’s cities.

Ramesh said in parliament Wednesday that the government would pursue a policy of encouraging bio-degradable plastic, arguing that replacing polythene bags with paper was not an eco-friendly solution as more trees would have to be cut to produce all that paper.

“It is the failure of the solid waste management by local bodies that is forcing the state governments to ban the use of plastic bags,” the minister said.

However, he admitted that bio-degradable plastic “is an expensive proposition and is in a nascent stage. It is not yet being used commercially on a large scale.”

But his comments have drawn criticism from environmental activists who felt the bans would work if alternatives like cloth bags and tax on plastic ones are encouraged at a national level.

“Jairam Ramesh is not worthy of being an environment minister. I cannot believe what he said. He doesn’t care for the environment. He’s sold out to the plastic lobby,” an enraged Iqbal Malik, founder member of NGO Vatavaran, told IANS.

“Paper bags are are recyclable, that is why we recommend them. But for him to make a statement like that is utter rubbish,” she said.

Sunita Narain, director, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), said: “I am not sure I agree with the minister’s statement.”

Kushal Yadav, CSE Toxics department coordinator, said: “I agree that till the time low cost alternatives are made available – a ban on plastics cannot be implemented since there are places like hospitals where its usage is indispensable. But I am all for the implementation of bans which can work if alternatives are encouraged and incentives provided.”

The Himachal Pradesh government had announced that it will ban plastic bags from Aug 15, while Jammu and Kashmir, Delhi and West Bengal have already barred use of plastic bags for commercial purposes.

The municipal agencies are responsible for enforcing bans that place different restrictions on use of plastic bags that are either made of coloured material or of less that 20 micron thickness.

“Not a single Indian city has a proper solid waste disposal system – but there are cities like in Nainital where the ban has worked – there are other towns with small populations where initiative of the local municipal commissioner has resulted in success,” said Yadav.

NGO Toxics Link’s director Ravi Aggarwal said that “the ministry’s view and what Mr. Ramesh suggested won’t work”.

“Plastics were introduced at a time when India had the highest-growing plastic industry in the world – the reason the bans are tough to implement is because the real issue is identifying which bags are how thick and there is high consumption at a low cost. The minister has unfortunately made generic statements.”

Plastics have different degrees of safety, Aggarwal said.

“Clubbing different plastics of varying compositions — either low or high density polyethylene plastics — often makes it impossible to recycle.”

The environmental activists agreed that a “national level policy” on using alternatives, imposing tax or making plastic bags costly would help rather than pushing the less viable biodegradable plastic bags — made of starch and sugar content often enhanced with chemicals.

Yadav said that “it’s not only paper bags — there is a huge amount of agricultural residues that can be used in bags as alternatives to plastics”.

“There is no point in passing the buck,” said Aggarwal, adding that a strong national level policy would yield results.