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Single-use plastics have become a focal point for lawmakers seeking to reduce waste, but the industry is pushing back
Since the start of 2019, 200 bills related to single-use plastics have been introduced in state legislatures, according to the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators. Single-use plastic includes products like plastic bags or carry out utensils from restaurants, made to be employed once and then thrown out or recycled.
Here’s what you need to know about the measures:
What are these bans?
These bans aren’t uniform laws—they vary in size and scope. The more basic bills ban thin plastic bags from grocery stores and other relevant retailers. Some legislation mandates fees ranging from about 5 cents to 10 cents on carryout bags. Others ban thin plastic bags but charge fees for alternatives, including paper, reusable and compostable bags.
Plastic bags have become the main target of wider sustainability efforts because of their accessibility, said Jennie Romer, a lawyer and sustainability consultant who advocates for these laws on the state and city level. They aren’t the only target. This year, state legislatures in Maine and Maryland passed bills banning plastic-foam containers.
Increased attention on litter and ocean conservation—piqued by images of dead whales with stomachs full of plastic bags and garbage patches filled with bags and other plastics floating in the ocean—is helping make the issue a hot topic in homes and statehouses.
“This is connecting to people’s lives in a real and dramatic way,” said Jeff Mauk, executive director of the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators, an environmental issue-based network of lawmakers.
Plastic bags aren’t biodegradable, and recycling companies and advisory groups discourage people from recycling them. The bags, which can get tangled in equipment and disrupt processing, “are a nuisance to the industry,
What are the drawbacks?
Industry groups argue that restrictions and added fees place a burden on consumers and businesses, and don’t take into account the environmental negatives associated with producing alternatives.
Plastic bags help protect people from illnesses brought on by contact with meat or produce. The nonprofit, composed of conservative state legislators, helped produce a model for pre-emptive legislation prohibiting plastics bans.
Do these laws work?
It is hard to determine the success of these bans, as many only went into effect over the past few years, advocates have said. But reports from states where laws have been in place longer give some insight into their effectiveness.
Before local and statewide bans were implemented in California, plastic bags constituted 8% to 10% of litter picked up during a coastal cleanup day
Humanity’s plastic crisis is pretty much an overflowing bathtub, and we need to turn the tap off before initiating any other action, like mopping the floor or pulling the drain stopper. But we have been doing things the opposite way. Our approach is counterintuitive.
The global plastic market size is expected to be worth $579.19 billion by 2027 (up from $450 billion in 2019). According to one report published in 2016, the Indian packaging industry alone is worth $32 billion (Rs 2.32 lakh crore) and is expected to climb to $73 billion in the next four years. In addition, the Government of India has approved proposals for 10 ‘plastic parks’ in the country; work on six, in Assam, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Odisha and Jharkhand, has begun.
The road to resolving India’s plastic woes can’t be riddled with so many inconsistencies. The new amendment is bound to meet a similar fate as its predecessors under the current policy implementation landscape. When it comes to environmental governance, what India lacks is intent, not laws. And there is enough empirical evidence to suggest that laws will remain paper tigers until backed by political will and the resources to match intent.