“An opportunity for our state to show the way”: Rajendra Ratnoo on plastic ban

A chat with Rajendra Ratnoo, IAS, on the plastic ban in force and the plans of the state to promote eco-friendly alternatives.

With the Tamil Nadu government’s partial ban on single-use plastic in place since January 1st, Citizen Matters spoke to Rajendra Ratnoo, IAS, one of the the three regional coordinators working to make the transition to a plastic-less state smooth and ensure the success of the ban. We asked him some of the questions raised most often by our readers.

What happens to the existing single use plastic in possession with the people as on January 1st?

The segregated collection of waste by the local body is already underway in many places. People can turn in the single use plastic they have to the dry waste collection centers of the respective local body, the kabadiwalas or even the local body’s shredding facility. They must ensure that the items are unusable before doing so, to prevent them from entering circulation once again.

Are the alternatives to single use plastic being promoted and made widely available? 

The district collectors across the state are organising exhibitions where they provide stall space for eco-friendly alternatives to single use plastic. The stalls are being set up in bus stands, railway stations and other public spaces. All the collectors have been told to organise such exhibitions and promote the alternatives, with the concerned local bodies providing space at a low cost.

As for availability, one must consider that one reusable cloth bag itself can substitute 100 carry bags. We are already seeing initiatives such as the rise of dabbawalas in Madurai, who bring the food to office goers in tiffin carriers. There are business opportunities in every gap and we are looking to encourage the entrepreneurs.

Rajendra Ratnoo, IAS, one of the three Regional Coordinators working on the state-wide plastic ban. (Pic: YouTube)

What is being done about the job loss in the plastic manufacturing sector that will be hit by the ban?

Plastic, when it became huge, snatched jobs in rural areas from the lotus growers and banana growers among others. The ban is an avenue for new business opportunities. There is scope for running businesses such as tiffin services, renting out tiffin carriers and selling alternatives to plastic. A number of new jobs will be created and the local economy will get money.

The plastic business was very centralised and the flow of money was away from local economy. There is no denying that there will definitely be some job loss but the banned items make up only 6% of the products manufactured in the plastics sector. Those in the business  can switch to making alternatives to plastic or even the many other products related to plastic which have not been banned.

Are there plans to extend the scope of the ban to cover single-use multi-layer packaging as used by large manufacturers and FMCG companies?

We must understand that there cannot be wholesale change in one go. We have already begun addressing this through a campaign in Tuticorin where school kids have taken the packages that come from their use of these products every month, segregated them by brands and mailed it back to the companies. This has drawn huge attention to the issue and has had an impact.

On the subject of the ban, we did not want to dilute the focus initially. The TNPCB and the state government has a commitment to ensure clean environment for the people.

The government is looking into single-use multilayer packaging as well. Technical teams have been constituted and sent to study various models of enforcing Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) as in other states. We will be looking at ways to handle that kind of waste, as it constitutes a large percentage of what is discarded.

Once the current campaign stabilises, the next step will be also to build pressure on large companies to take to eco-friendly packaging. The Food Safety Act in its current form does not lend itself to EPR enforcement. We must tackle this issue both socially and legally.

What will be the change in waste management strategy to ensure the success of the ban?

There will definitely be a lot of changes. First, non-biodegradable waste must be segregated. The ban will ensure that things fall into place and the overall complexity of managing waste is reduced. I think it will aid in the streamlining of waste management processes across the state.

What are the monitoring mechanisms in place to ensure the success of the ban? Are there any punitive measures as well?

There are multiple layers of monitoring. The local bodies are the key players. Multi-member teams have been formed across the state to ensure that the ban is adhered to. The teams have three members each –  a revenue official, a police officer and a local body officer. Each district has 70 – 100 such teams to conduct checks and make sure the ban holds up. The state is also likely to pass an ordinance regarding the same.

As of now, there will be seizure of banned goods. The district collectors have the authority to act against persons flouting the government order and impose fines. The ordinance will lay out provisions for fines so that they are uniform across the state and not left to the discretion of individual collectors.

What can people do to ensure that the ban is a success? What are your expectations of people?

My expectation and that of any government agency is that there will be some discomfort during the transition phase but that must be seen through. It is not difficult with the cooperation of the people. For the larger good, we must bear with small inconveniences. The use of plastic is an issue of habit which will take a little time for people to adjust to. I’m sure that if we are consciously inclined, the transition can be fairly smooth.

My appeal to people is to unlearn the habits that they have learnt over the last few decades. Reusable items being promoted as alternatives to plastic are also a symbol of traditional Tamil culture. This is an opportunity for Tamil Nadu to show the way not just to the country, but the whole world.

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