NEW DELHI: In a major step towards tackling the plastic menace, the Delhi high court on Thursday extended the ban on plastic bags to all markets in the city. Since hotels, hostels and shopping malls have already been declared no-plastic zones, the new order, if strictly enforced, will significantly reduce the use of this ecologically hazardous material.
The court also asked the Delhi government to increase the minimum permissible thickness of plastic bags from 20 microns to 40 microns and ordered the closure of all illegal recycling units in the city with immediate effect.
A bench headed by Justice T S Thakur, responding to a PIL by Vinod Jain of an NGO, Tapas, asked the city government to consider the recommendations of the Justice Chopra committee. The panel, comprising Delhi Pollution Control Board chairman J K Dadoo, Central Pollution Control Board chairman J M Mauskar and retired judge R C Chopra, had sought the use of virgin plastic in place of recycled plastic, a ban on small plastic pouches and getting plastic manufacturers to set up a state-of-the-art recycling unit.
While the government representatives chose not to talk about the order, saying they hadn't received a copy of the judgment, petitioner Jain said this was the first step in completely phasing out plastic bags from the city.
"The court has banned the bag at all places where it is used the most. The only setback at this point appears to be the lack of a deadline for implementing the ban. The government may take forever with this order," he said.
Experts, however, point to another huge problem that may occur after the order on closure of illegal recycling units is enforced. Delhi recycles about 1.2 million tonnes of plastic a year of which about 90% is done illegally, say industry insiders. In the process, the industry uses up about 50% of the city's plastic waste. At present, Delhi has no other mechanism for handling its waste and most of it finds its way to sewers and the Yamuna. As one expert asked, "Once the illegal units are shut, what is to happen to all this waste?"
"Delhi Pollution Control Committee does not have sufficient staff for such an operation," a government official said. "Till some time back, DPCC did not even have a clear idea of the extent of illegal plastic recycling taking place in the city. The collection mechanism was based largely on ragpickers. While the order is good for the city, the government needs to plan out its course of action before implementing the order in a hurry."