The government’s decision to ban plastic bags that are below 40 microns kicked up a storm just before the massive earthquake of April 25. Though this issue was raised time and again, it rarely caught stakeholder’s attention until the ban was put into effect on April 14. However, it seems the dust has settled and plastic bags are widely being used still in defiance of the ban which seems long forgotten.
The aftermath of this prohibition already had met with a mixed response from people, while the lack of monitoring on the part of government post earthquake added to it. With no sufficient alternatives made available by the government, many considered the decision a right one but done with the wrong timing and a move not backed up by proper planning. A lot of queries on preparation and compensation to investors and the manpower involved in the business continue to be raised ever since the ban was put to effect.
“Government should have imposed the ban on plastic bags gradually so that everyone had time to be prepared,” said Binod Tuladhar, Managing Director at Blue Bird Mart adding, “It is difficult to suddenly supply a sufficient number of paper and cotton bags in such a short notice. The government should have started with banning production and slowly come to banning at the retailer and
consumer level,” he opined.
“The government asked manufacturers to produce plastic bags after the massive earthquake, and now suddenly it has re-banned it without notice, like in the earlier case,” said Sharad Sharma, President of Nepal Plastic Manufacturers’ Association (NPMA). “In the past one year, the government and NPMA had a couple of rounds of talks, whereupon in September 2014, the government made a second amendment to the directives first designed in 2011,” he said. According to him, the directives read that the government would allow production and distribution of plastic bags of the thickness of 30 microns for small sizes and 40 microns for large sizes. “However, NPMA was never officially informed about the ban onplastic bags until the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment (MoSTE)published the notice in the Nepal Gazette on April 1, 2015,” he stated adding,“The agreement was changed by the government without our knowledge, probablyunder some kind of pressure and influence.”
According to Sharma, the main flaw in the decision of the government is to haveallowed only one size plastic bags, that is 20×35-inches and of 40 microns thickness. “Now we have come to the point where we have started to think that it is all a planned game to promote colourful non-oven plastic bags which are made from the same material that all plastic bags are made,” he charged. He said that plastic manufacturers continued manufacturing plastic bags earlier because the court had granted them a stay order.
The government claims environmental degradation and risks to health as mainfactors for the ban. Sharma said, “We want scientific proof that plastic bags are a direct health risk.” Regarding environment degradation, he claimed that it is due to the lack of proper use and disposal by users.
Sharma also demanded that investors and people directly or indirectly involved in this sector be considered by the government and provide access to substitute business opportunity and employment. “We have requested the government to come to talks and if our problems are overlooked, we will move forward in a different manner, which may not be as peaceful as now,” he said.
According to him, with a total investment of Rs 33 billion, the plastic industry collects a total revenue of Rs 10 billion per year and is considered to be the 10th largest revenue source. There are altogether 102 plastic manufacturers in the country with 25,000 people directly or indirectly working in this sector.
“Government has never taken back its decision. Certainly it had other priorities post calamity, which the manufactures tried to take advantage of by producing plastic bags,” said Mahendra Man Gurung, Joint Secretary of MoSTE. According to him, the ban has been put to effect even outside the Kathmandu valley and the government has assigned different teams to monitor the market. Similarly claiming that the government had informed NPMA time and again, he said, “The government informed NPMA to make necessary preparation for the ban of plastic bags inside Kathmandu earlier in September 2014 by providing them directives. NPMA was aware of the ban that the government was planning, they could have filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court against the ban just a couple of days ahead of the notice published in Nepal Gazette,” he asserted. “The effects caused by plastic bags are evident, hence the decision was taken to ban plastic applying the power conferred by Section 7(3) of the Environment Protection Act,” he mentioned.
According to him, the government has banned plastic bags and not plastic which can be manufactured and used in plastic products. Similarly, manufacturers can still produce plastic bags that are of set standard.
Clarifying the government stand on plastic bags, Gurung said, “The government has only banned plastic bags that are below 40 microns and of size 20×35-inches, especially coloured plastic bags that use harmful chemicals.” According to him, NPMA is not showing any interest in following these directives and is spreading rumours that the government is at fault. He also made it clear that the government has not taken back the decision to ban such plastic bags, nor does it intend to do so in future. “The government is always ready to talk to them and assist them if they come up with alternatives,” he assured, adding, “If they don’t abide by the directives and keep accusing the government, we will have to act accordingly,” he affirmed.
“Unlike earlier efforts, this time there are two pivotal factors that are game changers: government will and public support,” said Palzom Tenzing Pradhan, Campaign Coordinator, Himalayan Climate Initiative, highlighting public support for the government move. “In 2014, 50,000 people signed a petition supporting a ban on plastic bags and demanded immediate government action for a ban.”
According to Pradhan, plastic waste makes up 12 per cent of the total municipal waste in the Kathmandu Valley and five million to 10 million plastic bags are used in a day in Kathmandu. She pointed out that these non-biodegradable products also hinder the decomposition of degradable objects when it comes in contact with it and forms altogether 70 per cent of the municipal waste.
Besides littering the environment, plastic also degrades the quality of the soil and is a major contributor to global warming due to the presence of petroleum products in it. She also emphasised the fact that plastic debris disrupts aquatic ecosystems by being ingested by birds and fish, thus entering and poisoning our food chain. She also stated the reality that plastic bags do not come for free. “Store owners hide the cost of plastic bags in the price of products that customers buy,” she revealed.
Sanat Thapa, Deputy Director at Kathmandu Metropolitan City said, “Government would have published notice had it taken back the ban. It is just that the government was focused to relief work only.”
“Speaking about the government not coming up with the alternative, if the government had waited for an alternative, another problem might have occurred. Different bodies including MoSTE have come up with alternative bags and are actively working to make it available all over the country.”
According to him, the alternative to plastic bags is higher in price and people should also make some effort to find options suitable for them.
“It is obvious for manufacturers to react this way. However, they should think responsibly,” Thapa stated. “The concerned department of the government and NPMA can sit down and find ways to offer relief to plastic manufacturers,” he added.
He believed that the plastic manufacturers can alter their production and make jute, cotton or paper bags.
According to him, the government is determined to make the ban successful and will not consider the business interest of manufacturers over the environment and health of people. He informed that there are various check posts to prevent bringing in plastic bags illegally and a fine of up to Rs 50, 000 will be imposed if found guilty.