Lesson for India: How Sikkim won war against single-use plastics, much before Modi’s clarion call

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New Delhi | September 12, 2019 6:29 PM

Even as PM Modi is leading the war against single-use plastic from the front, a question does arise - is it possible? Several states of the country have tried to ban use of plastic bags but failed. 

single use plastic ban in india 2019PM Narendra Modi with women workers engaged in segregating plastic waste on Wednesday. Image: PIB

Single-use plastic ban in India: India looks set to formally ban single-use plastic. Reports had claimed last month that an official announcement to ban six-types of single-use plastics may be announced on October 2 – the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. At the recently-held 14th session of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had emphasised his government’s decision to ban single-use plastics in coming years and suggested the world must also say “goodbye” to it. On Wednesday, the prime minister was seen sitting with women workers engaged in segregating plastic waste.

Even as PM Modi is leading the war against single-use plastic from the front, a question does arise – is it possible? Several states of the country have tried to ban use of plastic bags but failed.

There is one state, however, which has proven that the war against single-use plastic can be won. Located in the North-East, small state of Sikkim is a shining example. In an official document, the Ministry of Environment and Forest, complimented the state last year: “Sikkim’s actions vis-à-vis single-use plastics remain the most enlightened in India”. But this battle was not won in a day!

The state has been officially fighting against plastic-use since 1998.

In 2016, much before the prime minister came with a clarion call against single-use plastic, Sikkim banned plastic bottles in all government departments and programmes. The state also banned the use and sale of disposable items such as cups, plates, spoons, containers and similar items made from polystyrene foam.

single use plastic ban in india 209Image source: ‘Beat Plastic Pollution: Good news from India”/Ministry of Environment and Forest.

Yuksom story

Sikkim’s battle against plastics started way back in 1998 when it became the first state of India to ban disposable plastic bags through a legislation. Interestingly, the inspiration for the state-wide ban on plastics came from a tiny village named – Yuksom. The village is located beside the Khangchendzonga National Park. The MoEF said in its document, “…by 1997 the villagers were so fed up of the visible deterioration of the protected area that they decided enough was enough.”

Local communities came together by forming Khangchendzonga Conservation Committee (KCC). It immediately took the issue of garbage management within the national park, especially single-use plastics. According to the MoEF document, the KCC collects around 800 kg of waste from trekking trails and forests. It has established strict rules by which trekking operators have to declare non-bio-degradable waste products being carried through. They have to make a checklist of such items and return account for these products on return.

In 1996, Yuksom became the first village in Sikkim, and probably in India also, to ban the use of plastics like bags and bottles. Two years later, the Sikkim government also announced a state-wide ban on plastic bags through a legislation on June 4, 1998. The state’s law imposed strict fines up to Rs 20,000 on offenders.

Why Sikkim succeeded?

Manisha Sheth Gutman, founder of Ecoexists, told Financial Express Online: “The reason for Sikkim’s success is that it is a relatively small territory with a government that has remained in power for a few decades. The damage caused by plastic pollution is immediately visible to residents as they see its effects firsthand. The government took 13 years to make Sikkim a 100% organic state and the move out of plastics was a part of this overall expansive vision. The people of Sikkim are still very deeply connected to Nature and have understood the need to conserve it.”

Gutman’s organisation has been working on single-use plastic carry bags since 2010. It has carried out several research projects on the issue and finds a mention in the ministry’s document.

Can Sikkim-model be replicated across India?

It may be difficult but not impossible to replicate Sikkim model across the country. Gutman said, “The Sikkim model can be replicated in larger states by breaking down the enforcement of the ban into smaller constituencies. Self-regulation by communities will help the government to identify violations of the ban. Gated communities, institutions and corporates that have security checking systems in place can also use these to check for plastics – an example of this kind of enforcement is that in some African countries tourists are checked for plastics at the customs gates.”

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