As the World Celebrates Earth Day, Punjab to Implement Plastic Bag Ban

As the world celebrates the 41st Earth Day on April 22nd, to raise awareness about the state of the global environment (now recognized worldwide as International Mother Earth Day) the Punjab government this week announced that it would issue strong penalties on the use of polythene bags less than 30 microns in size (think of it this way, a piece of hair is about 50 microns across). The statement warns of strong penalties for violations of the Punjab Plastic Bags Control Act a regulation initially passed in 2005, barring the manufacture and distribution of the smallest polythene. Bags 30 microns and smaller have been stressed because they are more likely to fly through the air to lands and public waterways. Polythene bags above this size will continue to be manufactured. Violators could face up to three months in jail.

Plastic bags contribute to Punjabs solid waste problem, one of the states growing challenges due to the number of small-scale industries producing disposable, manufactured goods. With the agricultural economy on the decline and the deflation in the price of agricultural land hitting rural areas hard, migration to urban areas and the demand for consumer products has increased the production of solid waste in recent years. Of all Punjabs cities, Ludhiana produces the greatest amount of solid waste from urban and industrial units, followed by Patiala, Jalandhar, and Amritsar, each seeing a rise over the past two decades. Waste from small commercial units dump non-biodegradable waste right onto street, which can pose serious environmental health challenges. (Under U.S. law, we classify these lands as Superfund/Brownfield sites indicating the presence of hazardous and otherwise harmful substances.)

Health experts in Punjab regard plastic bags as a menace to the environment. Not only does the use of polythene diminish soil health for Punjabs already troubled soils, the bags also pose a challenge to sewage treatment and disposal of wastewater for clean drinking water in urban and rural areas. Colored plastic bags often contain mercury, lead and other heavy metals, which are already pervasive in Punjabs environment. Lead is especially damaging to the central nervous system, and particularly affect the IQ of small children, while mercury can cause permanent damage to the brain, kidneys, and developing fetuses. Officials warn that bags also contain elements linked to cancer and should not be used as food packaging, a common site across even Punjabs small urban centers. The bags also are threat to Punjabs cattle population, who consume the bags flying out in the open, either causing them terminal illness to the animals themselves, or passing it on to humans through contaminated milk products (our tasty cha and ras malai.)

Opponents of the ban, say that implementation will be costly to Punjabs plastic industry. MS Dhingra of the Punjab Plastic Manufacturing Units Association, said that the plastic bag business is a 2 crore rupees a day industry in Punjab due to the demand from independent shopkeepers and storeowners. Roughly 8000 plastic bag manufacturers exist in Punjab, with about 250 in Ludhiana and 100 each in Jalandhar and Amritsar. In fact, after the ban was passed in 2005, the law was not enforced due to opposition by manufacturers and workers who were depended on these industries for jobs. Hence, ensuring a successful ban to advance public and environmental health must be met with opportunities for Punjabs workers to continue supporting their families. (Bangladesh experimented with this and saw a rise in its jute industry, providing meaningful alternatives to plastics and to workers).

Like much of the world, Punjab is at a crossroads in determining how it can provide adequate jobs for its emerging workforce, solve the states fiscal crisis, and ensure that this development is sustainable and protect Punjabs natural assets like land, air, water, and public health benefits which we take for granted from a clean environment (not to mention that weeding out corruption is high on the list). If leaders in Punjab have the vision to adopt solutions that benefit not only the economy but the environment too through the development of local, sustainable industrial production and a dynamic service sector, we can hope to see Punjab move through these troubled times, and perhaps, emerge with a new type of leadership. In the mean time, theres a lot of work to do. Happy Earth Day. #ED


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5 Responses to “As the World Celebrates Earth Day, Punjab to Implement Plastic Bag Ban”

  1. Herminder Singh says:

    Say no to polythene bags.

  2. brooklynwala says:

    glad to see punjab taking this important step. it seems to be a growing movement in india (not to mention other parts of the world). it's high time for the US to catch up.
    happy earth day! (p.s. here is a great interview with the amazing indian eco-activist vandana shiva this morning- http://www.democracynow.org/2011/4/22/earth_day_s… )

  3. iSingh says:

    Bravo !! Looking forward to the ban on all types of plastic bags.

  4. In this age where technology seems to be earning the greatest attention, people need to be reminded that a dumb generation will simply crush all the dreams of the current hopefuls. These youngsters need to be educated in order to continue reaping the harvest our pioneers have sown.

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