To rein in the hazardous substances like Flex, right from the state heads down to Civic Bodies across the four states – Kerala, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra – have put a strain on the indigenous flex manufacturers, most of who have invested heavily, only recently.
The most recent ban on the use and manufacturing of PVC Flex in the state of Maharashtra suddenly changed the scenario of the country’s signage industry, and turn out to be a major cause of worry of the stakeholders. The fear was that the wavelength would have its impact to a greater instant than expected and may encompass many other states and small geographies in its purview. Mumbai and Pune, being the two important destinations for the commuters in the country, may become the pilot cities to lead by example for setting plastic-free green cities. Following which, the whole country may agree to adapt to it.
The story of ban finds its root four years back when the beginning of a plastic-free environment was announced by the State of Kerala. Taking the initiative in 2014, the state government issued a notification, imposing a complete ban on plastic irrespective of its thickness, along with thermocol and, of course, on the products made using these materials in the periphery. The decision to this ban was taken by the State cabinet and the legislature, reasoning out that plastic has been becoming a hazard to the environment, blocking of gutters, sewers and drains apart from resulting in pollution of water bodies in urban areas.
The notification read as, “No shopkeeper, vendor, wholesale dealer, retailer, trader, hawker or salesman shall use plastic carry bags, plastic banners, plastic buntings, flex, plastic flags, plastic plates, plastic cups, plastic spoons, cling films and plastic sheets for spreading on dining table irrespective of thickness including the above items made of thermocol and plastic which use plastic micro beads.” This initiative by Kerala inspired a few more states like Karnataka, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra, which followed the footprints in establishing a plastic-free era.
Almost same notifications were issued by the other three states one-by-one barring manufacturers in the respective states from producing the aforementioned plastic products, storing or supplying or transporting the same. But exemption was given to plastic carry bags manufactured exclusively for export purpose against any export orders located in a special economic zone and export-oriented units, if so exists.
The most recent move was made by the state of Maharashtra, where the state government clearly mentioned that one could be penalised for using or possessing plastic bags and plastic and thermocol cutlery in public places. Soon to come into force, the State’s ban will see manufacturers, shopkeepers and consumers being penalised up to Rs. 25,000 and three months in jail for subsequent violations.
Going forward, amidst pressure from the industry stakeholders, the department has omitted items such as plastic flex boards, non-woven polypropylene bags, banners, flags, decorative door hangings, plastic sheets, PET water bottles, cling films, buntings and all types of plastic wrappers. This development at last brought a sigh of relief to the flex manufacturers across the country, who were finding the ban disturbing and restrictive to the growth besides adding to the unemployment.
The flex manufacturers put forth their own valid reasons like for instance flex hoardings and banners are never found thrown on the roads or in the streets! According to them, there are many substances other than flex which are manufactured using polyvinyl as the base material and are much more harmful and hazardous than flex. Also, whereas flex has quite a few number of cycles of usage before it is finally discarded and dumped in to the garbage, the other such substrates/materials are adding to the waste just after the first use.
The decision of ban in Maharashtra, however, has come in a diluted form as against the first draft published by the state government. According to the sources in the Environment department, the ban will be effective only on manufacture, use, storage, distribution and sale of plastic carry bags, thermocol and plastic plates, cups, glasses, forks, bowls and spoons. The partial ban is attributed to the pressure from plastic manufacturers, who had recently held a protest in Mumbai. The manufacturers had asked the government to rethink the decision and ensure strict implementation of plastic waste management rules.
However, there seems no respite for longer as an empowered committee has been formed with Environment Minister Ramdas Kadam being the chairman to discuss the ban on rest of the plastic goods, for which the details are being worked out by studying various bans imposed in states such as Karnataka. Besides plastic bags, the committee intends to soon ban flex boards, banners, flags and disposable items made up of plastic and thermocol such as plates, cups and spoons.
The state has announced immediate ban on the production and distribution of plastic bags after it realised that the 2006 ban on plastic carry bags of up to 50 microns and smaller than 8×12 inches was not helping unclog the drains or restrict the health hazards due to plastic being non-biodegradable. Adding to the vows is that animals are eating these bags, and marine animals are endangered too.
Recalling the 2005 destructive deluge in Mumbai; it was found that plastic bags were a major reason why the storm water drains were clogged, leading to floods in several areas. Now, state environment officials want to extend the ban to all types of plastic bags and other items that are not just clogging the drains, but are also damaging the ecology as they are non-biodegradable.
In 2016, the Karnataka state government imposed plastic ban under Environment Protection Act, 1986 and the Act comes under the jurisdiction of the Tribunal. The High Court, after hearing both sides, upheld the contention of the State government by dismissing the case, while keeping the issues open to be heard in other judicial platform.
Citing several studies, Advocate General (AG) M R Naik, maintained that environment hazards caused by plastic could not be controlled even after taking several measures. To the claims made by the manufacturers that the ban will lead to closure of the industry and job loss, the AG said that several plastic products are exempted from the ban and plastic manufacturers can continue to manufacture those products.
In the meantime, the government empowered Karnataka State Pollution Control Board, deputy commissioners and commissioners of the urban local bodies to take action against violators of the ban. On a serious note, the deputy commissioner (DC) had been given strict instruction to ensure there is no violation of the ban following which the government staff were found clearing flex banners in and around the city, besides educating people on the ban and not to violate the same.
What’s more, even the chief minister Siddaramaiah had been reported to have vowed that he would instruct the rank and file of the party not to do so in the future, referring to which the DC asserted that when the CM himself has made this commitment, it becomes all the more necessary to implement the same in letter and spirit.
In case of the ban in Maharashtra, a senior official from the state environment department, who is privy to the development, pointed out that the ban imposed on plastic in Karnataka was supported by both the National Green Tribunal (NGT) and Karnataka High Court. Meanwhile, P Anbalagan, member secretary, MPCB, has been reported as saying that during the region-wise meetings, they have asked all the stakeholders to help the government for effective implementation of the proposed ban. Following the footsteps of Karnataka, the authorities have been asked to create awareness among citizens about the proposed ban so that citizens shall be mentally prepared.
However, the indigenous flex manufacturers are of the opinion that the government has to look for ways to avert the ban on flex. According to them, there is no substitute of flex as yet, especially when it comes to affordability and durability. Also, the industry, which was highly dependent on imports, has just started breathing easy after quite a few indigenous manufacturers invested heavily in setting up their respective plants to manufacture and feed the domestic demands.
While manufacturers themselves are busy finding some ways – either in the form of alternative material/substrate or to improve the quality of flex by restricting the use of PVC to a certain minimum level in manufacturing flex. In the meantime, substitutes like EcoSign and Polyester-based Fabric with necessary certifications are knocking at the doorsteps to plank in and make a space for them. Producers of these substrates are finding it easy to creep in and tap the opportunities in abundance provided they set a price which is affordable and at the same time robust for outdoor usage.