On 1 July, the Centre banned the use of “single-use plastic” across India, including cigarette packs and cutlery. India has been struggling with the issue of plastic pollution. There is no organised system for managing plastic waste in the country, which leads to widespread littering. As per the World Population Review, India is one of […]

On 1 July, the Centre banned the use of “single-use plastic” across India, including cigarette packs and cutlery. India has been struggling with the issue of plastic pollution. There is no organised system for managing plastic waste in the country, which leads to widespread littering. As per the World Population Review, India is one of the largest generators of plastic waste in the world (12,994,100 tonnes in 2022) and also generates the most plastic waste to be released into the oceans, second only to the Philippines. Single-use plastics are the biggest threat to the environment, wildlife, and to people. They contribute to rising pollution and the toxic chemicals released from them can affect groundwater, which in turn causes deadly diseases. According to a report from the Veolia Institute, since 1950, close to half of all plastics used worldwide have ended up in landfills or were dumped in the wild, and only 9 per cent of the used plastics have been adequately recycled. The ban – which had been in the pipeline for over a year – is not the first time the country has attempted to tackle the problem of single-use plastics. However, previous attempts at imposing the ban have been limited to certain states and products and have seen limited success due to enforcement issues.

According to a report by FICCI, about 60% of plastic waste in India is collected. The remaining 40% or 10,376 tonnes remain uncollected.


Single-use plastics include items that can only be used once and usually make up the highest share of manufactured plastics. Items such as grocery bags, food packaging, bottles, straws, containers, cups, and cutlery are all single-use plastics. Most single-use plastics are non-biodegradable. Instead, they slowly break down into smaller pieces known as microplastics. As per the ban, which came into effect last week, the manufacture, import, stocking, distribution, sale, and use of single-use plastics has been prohibited. This includes earbuds; balloon sticks; candy and ice-cream sticks; cutlery items including plates, cups, glasses, forks, spoons, knives, trays; sweet boxes; invitation cards; cigarette packs; PVC banners measuring under 100 microns; and polystyrene used for decoration. Previously, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change had already banned polythene bags under 75 microns in September 2021, expanding the limit from the earlier 50 microns. From December 2022, the ban will be extended to polythene bags under 120 microns. Ministry officials have explained that the ban is being introduced in phases to give manufacturers time to shift to polythene bags with larger micron sizes, which are easier to recycle. Any violation of the norms — manufacture, import, stocking, distribution, sale, and use will attract penalties and punishments laid out under the Environment Protection Act, 1986. According to the Act, whoever fails to comply with the provisions may be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to five years or with a fine up to Rs 1 lakh, or both.

The government is planning to set up control rooms at national and state levels to ensure effective implementation of the ban. Apart from this, special enforcement teams will be formed to check the illegal manufacture, import, stocking, distribution, sale, and use of the banned single-use plastic items. Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) officials have also said that state governments will be setting up border checkpoints to stop the inter-state movement of any banned single-use plastic item. In addition to this, the government has, over the past year, focused on encouraging industries and MSMEs to come up with alternatives for plastic, including biodegradable plastic and compostable plastic. A grievance redressal app was launched so that citizens could act as watchdogs to help further enforce the ban. In the past, environmental activists and critics have highlighted the lack of enforcement of any bans or policies implemented by the government.


The ban will play an enormous role in combating numerous environmental issues as well as have a positive impact on individual health. The production of plastic requires a huge amount of energy and resources, which in turn contributes to increased carbon emissions and ultimately, global warming. Reducing the use of plastic will result in fewer carbon emissions from producing, transporting, recycling, and disposing of the waste materials, in addition to reducing illegal plastic waste being dumped into the ocean. However, the practical implications of the ban, including the loss of industry and jobs should also be taken into consideration. Banning plastic bags will reduce retail employment. According to the All-India Plastics Manufacturers Association (AIPMA), 88,000 MSMEs across the country produce single-use plastic items and employ around one million people, who will lose their livelihoods due to the ban. According to the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry or FICCI, the ban will lead to an increase in the prices of fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) products. It will also completely wipe out various low price point products (products that cost less than Rs 5 – such as shampoo sachets, detergent pouches, biscuit packets etc.) as production at these price points becomes unviable. Various industry representatives have asked the government for more time to phase out single-use plastic products, and have questioned the government’s move to ban several products that they claim are recyclable. As per the Thermoformers and Allied Industries Association (TAIA), the industry has a turnover of Rs 10,000 crore and directly employs two lakh people. The ban, it said, will render assets worth Rs 5,000 crore useless overnight. It will also affect the recycling industry, which indirectly supports 4.5 lakh people, it added.

The ban, effective from 1 July 2022, will be monitored and implemented by the Central Pollution Control Board.

India generates 15 million tonnes of plastic waste every year, but only one fourth of this is recycled due to the lack of a functioning solid waste management system.The ban may have a negative impact on street vendors who have to scramble to find affordable alternatives.


India is late in jumping on the bandwagon to ban single-use plastics. As many as 27 territories in the Caribbean subregion and 34 countries in Africa have passed a law banning plastics and successfully implemented it. In fact, Rwanda became the world’s first ‘plastic-free’ nation in 2009, ten years after it introduced a ban on all plastic bags and plastic packaging. Anyone who is caught with a plastic item faces a jail term of up to six months. On entering a border post into the country, vehicles are searched and any plastic bags or packaging are confiscated before they enter the country. Similarly, Kenya’s plastic ban is probably one of the strictest in the world. Anyone caught manufacturing, selling, or even carrying a plastic bag, either has to face four years of imprisonment or submit a fine of $40,000. Apart from this, a ban on single-use plastics also took effect in the European Union in 2021.

There are many lessons that can be learnt from years of policy implementation in countries across the world. One of the key steps is to ensure the regulation of the entire lifecycle of single-use plastics — from manufacturing and production, use and distribution, to trade and disposal. Governments often fail to incentivise the market of plastic alternatives. They are also unable to put policies in place that would require recycled content to be used in the production of plastic or biodegradable bags.

While banning single-use plastic by enforcing laws, accompanied with stringent punishments, is a step in the right direction, it is often found that statutory measures on their own are not sufficient to reduce the use of plastic. As India bans the use of single-use from 1st July, there are structural and behavioural changes required to reduce the use of plastic in the country.

Behavioural change campaigns could lead to a decrease in the use of plastic by consumers. Incentives could be provided to consumers to reduce the use of plastic. The case in hand is Ireland’s Plastax, which levies a charge on the use of plastic bags by the consumers. It led to a 90 per cent drop in the use of plastic bags, with one billion fewer bags used, and it generated $9.6 million for a green fund supporting environmental projects.

Another major issue that is going to trouble consumers, as well as business organisations, is that there is no clear guideline in place for alternatives that could fully replace plastics. There is an urgent need to invest in research and development into low cost and mass-produced alternatives to single-use plastic.