Solving Cities

Delhi imposes complete ban of plastic bags

Delhi imposes complete ban of plastic bags

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India's capital city wants to eliminate plastic bags, but is it using the right method?

In 2009, Delhi, India's capital and second largest city, prohibited commercial areas from storing and selling plastic bags. But the measure did little to alleviate the large numbers of plastic bags being used in the city. So, this week, the city approved a more thorough and complete ban of plastic bags. It will now be illegal to store, sell, and manufacture plastic bags in the city.

The original ban was ineffective, in part, because of so many loopholes in the code that made enforcement difficult. The new measure attempts to do away with those, The Times of India reports:

The ban has been extended to include all plastic bags, even those made of virgin or bio-degradable plastic of 40 microns or more thickness, which had previously been permitted. The only exception will be use of plastic carry bags under the Bio-Medical Waste Management and Handling Rules of 1998.

The ban now includes manufacturing of plastic bags and use of plastic sheets, films or covers for packaging books, magazines or cards.

The amount of plastic waste in the city as a percentage of total municipal waste rose from 0.6 percent in 1996 to 9.2 percent in 2005. Delhi produces about 5 percent of India's total amount of packaging waste even though its population only represents 1.5 percent of the country. The increased use of plastic, bags in particular, has lead to sanitation and sewage problems because of clogged drains. Burning of plastic waste has led to increased air pollution. And the acidental consumption of bags has been problematic for animals.

So it's no wonder that Delhi wants to do something about the plastic bag problem. But is a blanket ban on plastic bags the answer for Delhi? The South Asian Network for Development and Environmental Economics (SANDEE) isn't so sure.

"In developing countries with little enforcement capacity, a blanket ban may not be the best possible solution. In fact, no single solution is likely to produce large enough results," SANDEE said in a policy brief on the issue of the original plastic bag ban in Delhi. "Instead a combination of strategies might be required to create an incentive-based system for the consumer and the retailer."

So what kinds of policy measures does SANDEE suggest? The organization conducted an experiment to see how much they could decrease plastic bag use in Delhi markets. The first step was to introduce an education campaign on the environmental impact of plastic bags. Next, the group offered a cash back incentive for customers that didn't use plastic bags (1 or 2 percent cash back on their total purchase). Then, reusable bags were placed in stores for purchase.

Following the field study, the group found that the cash back method reduced plastic bag use the most, by 5.5 percent. All together, the three schemes increased the number of people bringing their own bags from 4.6 percent to 17.8 percent. And overall plastic bag usage dropped from 80.8 percent to 57.1 percent.

It's not the complete elimination of plastic bags that, it seems, the city is looking for. But if Delhi's new ban doesn't do the trick this time, these ideas are worth a try.

Photo: Flickr/pseudorlaya

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Tyler Falk

Contributing Editor

Tyler Falk is a freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. Previously, he was with Smart Growth America and Grist. He holds a degree from Goshen College. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure