Monday, February 7, 2011

Govt bans plastic sachets for gutka and tobacco

New Delhi: The ubiquitous gutka and tobacco sachets may soon disappear from paan shops across the country. With the Supreme Court leaning hard to curb use of plastics, the environment ministry on Monday banned the use of plastic in packaging of tobacco goods. 
The order, which also bans provision of free plastic bags by shopkeepers, is bound to hit the gutka, pan masala and other tobacco products market hard with the small sachets likely to go out of business with the introduction of the rules. Gutka and other non-smoking tobacco products being sold in plastic packages have been the major cause behind India’s increasing mouth cancer cases. The recent adult tobacco use survey in India showed a tremendous rise in non-smoking tobacco use. The latest order may cut down on chewing tobacco use by rendering gutka and other chewable tobacco products costlier for addicts. The order will also make logistics more difficult for tobacco manufacturers.
The environment ministry’s decision came as part of new rules under the Environment Protection Act, 1986 to regulate use of plastic waste.
Dr P C Gupta, spearheading India’s anti-tobacco campaign, told , “The discarded empty plastic sachets were a toxic waste and hazard since even empty sachets would contain carcinogens from the gutka mixture”.
   Shopkeepers will not be allowed to provide free plastic bags from now on. The municipal corporations have been empowered to set the price the shopkeepers will charge from consumers. The municipalities will now also be able to charge manufacturers of plastic packaging and goods manufacturers that use plastic packaging to set up recycling and collection centres in the cities. Though this might be more difficult to implement on ground than on paper, it is the first step towards an internationally established norm of ‘Extended Producer’s Responsibility’.
   The ministry had proposed these rules way back in September 2009 but then sat on it. Last Wednesday, hearing a case on it the Supreme Court ordered the government to notify the rules by the deadline it had set in December 2010. The bench headed by Justice G S Singhvi had warned, “You (the government) would violate the court’s order at your peril”. The ministry reacted quickly to notify the rules despite strong lobbying by the tobacco industry — with more than Rs 10,000 crore annual turnover by some estimates.
   Not prescribing a complete ban on plastic bags as some hill states have done on their own, the rules try to only regulate and limit their use. “It is impractical and undesirable to impose a blanket ban on the use of plastic all over the country. The real challenge is to improve municipal solid waste management systems,” environment and forests minister Jairam Ramesh said announcing the new rules.

Gutka and other non-smoking tobacco products sold in plastic packages a major cause for increasing mouth cancer cases .
Environment ministry’s order will render chewable tobacco products costlier for addicts Discarded plastic sachets are also a toxic waste.

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