Eateries, FMCG firms rush to meet plastic ban deadline

India will ban the manufacturing, import, distribution and sale of single-use plastic items from 1 July, the government said on Wednesday, pressing ahead with its plans.

The items that are set to be banned include earbuds with plastic sticks, plastic sticks for balloons, plastic flags, candy sticks, ice-cream sticks, polystyrene decoration, plastic plates, cups, glasses, cutlery, straws, trays, wrapping or packing films around sweet boxes, cigarette packets, and stirrers.

Dabur India has started producing Real juice packs with integrated paper straws. As a result, fresh stocks will now be accompanied by paper straws, the company said. “We are committed to meeting the regulations and will ensure that all packs come with integrated paper straws,” said Shahrukh Khan, executive director of operations, Dabur India.

Beverage maker Parle Agro, which owns brands such as Frooti and Appy Fizz, has started importing paper straws in compliance with India’s new rules. However, imports remain “staggered”. India has a constraint when it comes to the manufacturing of paper straws, and as a result, companies are relying on imports to meet demand.

“Our shipments of paper straw are coming in a staggered manner due to huge demand. Nonetheless, we are working on a programme for a smooth transition from plastic straws to biodegradable straws and have no plans of closing any factories in the process. All factories will be operational,” said Schauna Chauhan, chief executive of Parle Agro. “As part of our transition to biodegradable straws, we will start with using paper straws and then move to PLA-based (bioplastic) straws. This will commence once all the machinery of our business partners for manufacturing PLA straws is commissioned, which will take a few months,” Chauhan said. Parle Agro has made representations to the government seeking an extension of the deadline.

On Tuesday, Mint reported that the environment ministry formed a task force across all states and Union territories to check the illegal manufacture, import, stocking, distribution, sale and use of banned single-use plastic items.

Many companies sought an extension on the ban, citing supply disruptions and costs in switching to paper straws.

The ban will temporarily disrupt supplies in the market, said Praveen Agarwal, chief executive officer, Action Alliance for Recycling Beverage Cartons, an industry body. “There are no immediate solutions available, and if paper straws were so readily available, then we would not have waited for so long.”

Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation Ltd, which sells Amul-branded products, said the company is “ready”, but straw imports are taking time. Amul draws significant sales from small tetra packs of buttermilk and milkshakes. “We had already placed orders; some straws are coming from mid-July. The government has allowed the use of biodegradable straws, and those are available at a reasonable price and locally. Paper straws are far pricier, but we will take the impact temporarily,” said R.S. Sodhi, managing director of Amul Federation.

Meanwhile, independent restaurants have been preparing for the ban on single-use plastic, with many companies like Indigo Deli, Lite Bite Foods, Café Delhi Heights, The Beer Cafe, and Ophelia eliminating plastic from food deliveries and service. Several have worked towards the goal over the last couple of years.

Vikrant Batra, co-founder of Café Delhi Heights, which has about 21 outlets in the National Capital Region, said the company has been working towards becoming more eco-friendly. “We have been using paper cups, glass, carry bags, containers for takeaways, paper-based straws, butter paper envelopes, wooden baskets, paper-based burger and cake boxes. The costs are increasing, but it is a very small contribution towards society,” he said.

For deliveries, most restaurant companies have been charging a packaging charge, said Anurag Katriar, founder of Indigo Hospitality. This covers the additional cost of switching from plastic to paper. “All our packaging is compliant, including paper packaging with no plastic films,” he said.

Ophelia in Delhi, a high-end restaurant, uses bamboo-based straws and jute bags for deliveries.

Rahul Singh, founder of The Beer Cafe, said the chain started eliminating plastic products two years ago, starting with straws and stirrers. “We have also moved to packing it in paper carry bags and using aluminium bowl containers for food packaging for takeaways and deliveries,” Singh said.

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