Plastic ban is back

Plastic ban to be reinforced with use of alternative bags

The ban on plastic bags, which will be enforced from April 1, will also see the introduction of alternative bags such as jute and other biodegradable bags, according to an official from the National Environment Commission (NEC).

The plastic ban comes after the first one introduced two decades ago on April 20, 1999 when the Ministry of Trade and Industry issued a nationwide notification on the ban on the sale/use of plastic carry bags, doma wrappers and homemade ice cream pouches in conjunction with the Ministry of Health, NEC and the Bhutan Chambers of Commerce and Industry (BCCI).

The NEC issued the reinforcement notification on January 14.

Last year, on November 13, NEC consulted with relevant agencies and decided to reinforce the ban with the aim to manage and address waste issue in the country.

The NEC official said that there is no data or records compiled for the numbers of plastic seized or people who had been penalized for using plastic. “Until now, we have blamed the lack of alternatives for plastic bags as the cause of failure for the plastic ban,” he said.

“But there are several alternatives such as homemade carry bags, hand-woven bags, reusable jute bags or biodegradable bags,” said the official, adding that people prefer plastic bags, which encourages vendors and shopkeepers to give plastic bags.

Sensitization programs will be conducted till March to explore the availability of alternatives and prepare the monitoring plan on the ban of plastics.

“If we don’t keep plastic bags, we will lose our customers,” said Ugyen Dema, a vegetable vendor at Centenary Farmers Market. “Although people come with shopping bags they still ask for plastic bags.”

Tashi Wangdi, a shopkeeper, said that they have to use plastic bags to maintain their customer base. “Paper bags were introduced once but they are expensive.”

Another shopkeeper said the ban on plastic bags would benefit them as currently, they have to buy it in black and give it free to customers.

The ban on the use of plastics was reintroduced twice in 2005 and 2009. A new waste regulation was also implemented in 2012.

Another customer said that plastic bags might be banned but plastic exists in other forms like chocolate and noodle wrappers so just banning plastic carry bags does not make much sense. “If you are serious about banning plastic, you need to ban everything.”

Tsirang and Samdrup Jongkhar are the few dzongkhags that have already initiated the ban on the use of plastic bags.

Once the ban comes into effect, business establishments or person found selling or using plastic items would be fined Nu 500 for the first offence and Nu 1,000 for the second offence. Subsequent violation will result in cancellation of the business license and increase of penalties for individuals.

According to the municipal authority, 49% of the waste is organic and can be decomposed, 25.3% paper waste, 13.7 % plastics, and 3.6 % glasses.

Today, about 40.3 Metric Tons (MT) of waste is disposed every day at Memelakha landfill and another 20–25MT of dry waste at Greener Way’s collection site at Babesa.

Tshering from Thimphu