Single Use Plastic (SUP) Ban: Time to rethink eco-friendly alternatives

Although single use plastic products (SUP) are cheap, convenient and readily available, their disposal is problematic and hazardous to the planet. A collective initiative by consumers towards reducing single-use-plastic consumption would lead to building a sustainable healthy environment.

  • The level of greenhouse gas emissions associated with the production, use and disposal of conventional fossil fuel-based plastics is forecast to grow.
  • The eco-friendly and biodegradable alternatives to single use plastic items are sustainable as well.
  • With some changes in our lifestyles and by adopting eco-friendly alternatives it will not be difficult to live without SUP.
  • At the same time, industry can adopt novel alternatives such as plant based resin, milk and mushroom packaging can be explored.

Image credit: Pexels

Invented in 1907, plastic is an affordable material that is used in our everyday life. However, these convenient solutions are problematic when it comes to their disposal and are hazardous to planet Earth. According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), seven billion tonnes of plastic waste is generated globally. The level of greenhouse gas emissions associated with the production, use and disposal of conventional fossil fuel-based plastics is forecast to grow to 19% of the global carbon budget by 2040.

Plastic waste has become one of the most pressing environmental issues that we are facing today. India’s share in generating plastic waste annually is about 3.5 million tonnes and the per capita plastic waste generation has almost doubled over the last five years. To tackle the challenge of plastic pollution that is choking the rivers and poisoning the wildlife, from 1st July 2022, India has implemented  a nationwide ban on Single-Use Plastic (SUP) items having low utility and high littering potential. The ban prohibits the manufacture, import, stocking, distribution, sale and use of identified single use plastic items. 

The list of banned items includes -ear buds with plastic sticks, plastic sticks for balloons, plastic flags, candy sticks, ice- cream sticks, polystyrene (Thermocol) for decoration, plastic plates, cups, glasses, cutlery such as forks, spoons, knives, straw, trays, wrapping or packing films around sweet boxes, invitation cards, cigarette packets, plastic or PVC banners less than 100 micron, stirrers.`

 Why replace SUP?

Single-use plastics are those plastic items that are designed and made to be used only once before being disposed. From shopping bags to toothbrushes, single use plastics (SUP) have become an integral part of our day-to-day lives as they are usually the cheapest and most readily available option. 

These SUP are not designed to be recycled and they are not biodegradable either. It takes around 1000 years to break down, meaning that any plastic produced till date is still on earth. Plastic waste is not only affecting ocean life, air, food, but it is also making its way back into our body in the form of micro-plastics (the extremely small fragments of plastic

How prepared are we?

The government is promoting the use of eco-friendly alternatives. Responding to the SUP ban, the FMCG companies are adopting alternatives. Leading companies, including Parle Agro, Dabur, Amul and Mother Dairy, have replaced integrated plastic straws in the tetra packs with alternative sustainable solutions. However, most companies do not intend to pass on the additional costs to the consumers as for now. 

Amul, the largest food and dairy brand of India, is locally procuring a part of its required supplies of biodegradable plastic straws, besides importing paper straws from South Korea and China. For ensuring that long-term costs stay under control, Amul has plans to create biodegradable straw manufacturing units within Amul’s facilities and to redesign ‘spouts’ of small tetra packs to eliminate the use of straws.

Dabur, which has a huge market share in the health drinks market, has also started production of juice packs with integrated paper straws. Similarly, the FMCG major Emami, is all set to ban single-use plastics. Since the last few years, it has been gradually reducing the use of single-use plastics.

So, the industry on its part, is preparing to comply with the ban on single-use-plastic products, but consumers must also get ready to make some changes in their life styles. It is not so very difficult to adopt and adjust to living-without-Plastics. They can try out these simple solutions:-

  • Replace plastic shopping bags with reusable bags 
  • Start using their own tea/coffee mugs 
  • Consider recycling and reusing everything that they can
  • They may buy items in bulk and thus reduce packaging

Alternatives to SUP

There are various eco-friendly alternatives to SUP, which can make our life hassle free. Let us have a look at some of these available options:-

Plastic Straws- The eco-friendly alternatives include stainless steel straws, reusable silicone straws and compostable plant-based straws like the wheat straws. The best of all options could be drinking without a straw if possible.

Plastic drink-stirrers– The alternatives available are: Reusable glass or bamboo stirrers, spoons. One may also use herbal options and try a stick of rosemary (Gulmehandi).

Ballooon sticks- For decoration purpose more eco-friendly options are available such as paper lanterns, recycled bunting, DIY(Do It Yourself) bubble blowers and flowers can be chosen in place of balloons. 

Plastic Cotton buds- Bamboo cotton buds, or fluid ear washes. 

Plastic glasses, cups and lids-One may choose from reusable glass cups and porcelain mugs and copper/glass bottles. A wide variety of glasses, cups and lids made of ceramic and glass are available.

Plastic cutlery– The Eco-friendly alternatives are the reusable bamboo cutlery and leaf cutlery or carrying own travel-cutlery set while travelling.

Plastic bags- These are easy to replace with a canvas/khadi/jute/cloth bags for shopping needs.

Some pioneering sustainable alternatives

There have been recent advancements globally, towards upgrading the production of food packaging materials, which could be edible, bio-degradable, and act as carriers of bio-based active agents. These not only promote the well-being of humans but at the same time are sustainable. Some of the pioneering sustainable alternatives to SUP are-

Plant based Resin- Utopia Plastix, a company that derives plant-based plastic solutions, developed a plant-based resin that is as durable as plastic but far more compostable. The crops used to make the resin help capture carbon while eliminating toxins from and adding nutrients to the soil. The resulting plastic, which is suitable for both high and low temperature applications, can be used by manufacturers to produce straws, cutlery and food packaging.

Milk and Mushrooms- Casein a milk protein makes for packaging that is 500 times less permeable to oxygen than conventional plastic and could serve to alleviate food waste by keeping food fresh for significantly longer time periods

Mushroom based packaging made from agricultural waste, husks and oat hulls, pressed into shape and seeded with mushroom spores which sprout mycelium that binds materials together represents a compostable alternative.

Seaweed For the 2019 London Marathon, runners were given seaweed pouches filled with water instead of plastic bottles. As the pouches themselves were edible, this proved a sustainable solution. 

Post SUP-ban, going forward it must be ensured that using such products that are born from nature, and go back to the nature after being used up, and contribute to saving the planet. Certainly one person avoiding Single-use-plastic completely is less impactful but collectively initiating towards reducing single-use plastic consumption would definitely build a sustainable healthy environment for coming future generations.

Views expressed are personal to the author.


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