Mumbai plastic ban: After this, next focus will be e-waste management, says P Anbalagan, Member Secretary MPCB

There are still a lot of questions around the plastic ban in  Maharashtra, but the state has gone ahead with it, hoping that the future will answer them. Even as the state prepares for the ban (despite its implementation), Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) has already started working towards their next focus area —  e-waste management. Maharashtra Pollution Control Board, Member Secretary, P Anbalagan in conversation with Jescilia Karayamparambil talks about the plastic ban and MPCB’s future plans. Excerpts:

There are non-woven bags that look like cloth bags but are not cloth bags. There are other such issues. How do you plan to tackle it?

We have been doing various awareness programmes for past three months through media, social media and by carrying out various workshops. All forms of carry bags are banned except jute and cloth bags that are reusable. Additionally, bags that look like cloth bags and all forms of decorative items and single-use plastic items will have to be discarded.

There is some confusion around compostable bags. Why is that?

Compostable bags will make their way into the market slowly but there is a need for them to be regulated. This will take two or three months. We want to streamline which compostable bags are quality bags and which are not. There are chances that producers will start selling fake compostable bags to get rid of the plastic they have with them.

What kind of labs are you planning to develop? What will they be for?

There are labs, which have instruments like infrared spectrum for identification of plastics. It comes for around Rs 1.8 lakh to Rs 2 lakh. If someone says that the compostable bags have bio-particles then we can test it in those labs and seize the material. This is to streamline compostable bags. Otherwise, there are chance that the producers will sell 50 compostable bags and 50 plastic bags in the same packet.

Who is helping the MPCB in this initiative?

Institute of Chemical Technology (ICT) and a couple of experts who have worked in NASA and other international agencies, are examining any products we think there is an issue. We are also using help of a lab in Chennai, with world-class facility. We are trying to work on some form of customisation through research and development (R&D) for compostable bags.

Plastic ban was not successful in other states or regions in India. What did you learn from that and what do you plan to implement here?

I visited Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and even Ooty in Tamil Nadu, it was not successful there as they did not look at any alternatives. In UP, it was non-existent ban. It was on paper but plastic bags were and are still freely available. In Sikkim, they have a good collection mechanism. If anyone is coming from other states, they collect plastic bags at the check post and there they sell alternative bags too. In Madhya Pradesh, only Indore follows the same model and they are strong in their segregation mechanism. In Shimla, they have done a good job but their dumping sites are pathetic.

How many volunteers are expected to be on the street?

We are trying to get a database on it. But it will be mostly competent authorities and not volunteers who will be moving around. We want to have an independent portal for them. We will identify each and every offender with a unique identification number. All our authorities will be equipped with technology to deal with offenders.

There was talk about microbeads. Will it be banned too as they adversely impact marine life?

At present it hasn’t been discussed. But yes, plastic straw was discussed as it hurts marine life.

After plastic ban is settled, what will MPCB focus on?

We will focus on e-waste. We are the first one to work in that direction. It will again be the extended producer’s responsibility here and the person who is selling it will have to collect it back.

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