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Shelving its plan to impose a countrywide ban on single-use plastic, the government has said that the ‘Swachhata Hi Seva’ campaign launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on September 11 “is not about banning the single-use plastic but creating awareness and a people’s movement to curb its use.”

This clarification came yesterday – Tuesday, Oct 1 – after a few media reports said India had held off imposing a blanket ban on single-use plastics in the country.

The plan was for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to outlaw six items today – Wednesday, Oct 1 – the 150th anniversary of the birth of independence leader Mahatma Gandhi, as part of a broader campaign to rid India of single-use plastics by 2022.

The reason, said reports quoting unnamed officials, was that the plan to outlaw six items would have been disruptive for the industry at a time when it is coping with an economic slowdown and job losses.

The reports quoted officials as saying that there would be no immediate move to ban plastic bags, cups, plates, small bottles, straws and certain types of sachets and instead the government would try to curb their use.

Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forests, Chandra Kishore Mishra said that for now, the government will ask states to enforce the existing rules against storing, manufacturing and using some single-use plastic products such as polythene bags and Styrofoam.

“There is no new ban order being issued,” Mishra was quoted as saying. “Now, it’s a question of telling people about the ill-effects of plastic, of collecting and sending for recycling so people don’t litter.”

The ban wouldn’t have hit only plastic manufacturers but several other businesses which use plastic in packaging for everything from sodas and biscuits to ketchup and shampoo.

Also Read: Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary: World pays homage

The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) said the move had become an existential issue for several economic sectors because alternatives were not immediately available. It said small-sized plastic bottles used for pharmaceutical or health products should be exempted as there is no alternate available. Sachets made from so-called multi-layered packaging should also not be banned, as that could disrupt supplies of products like biscuits, salt and milk, the confederation said.

Plastic waste is at epidemic proportions in the world’s oceans with an estimated 100 million tonnes dumped there to date, according to the United Nations. Scientists have found large amounts of micro plastic in the intestines of deep-dwelling ocean mammals like whales.

India, which uses about 14 million tonnes of plastic annually, lacks an organised system for management of plastic waste, leading to widespread littering.

“The toxins, poisons and persistent pollutants present in some of these plastic products leach and enter human bodies where they cause several diseases, including cancer,” said Chitra Mukherjee, head of advocacy and policy at Delhi-based Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group, reported news agency Reuters.

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