Residents find alternative in bio-degradable carry bags

The bags come in varied colors and sizes with prices ranging from Nu 5 to 10 per piece

Many residents in Phuentsholing have already begun using bio-degradable carry bags to carry their goods although the ban on plastics is yet to be affective from April 1.

The non-woven bags, believed to be bio-degradable, have also become popular among the customers. The bags come in varied colors and sizes with prices ranging from Nu 5 to 10 per piece. The bags have a cloth lookalike and are considered durable too.

Traders and retail shopkeepers have already started stocking the bags which are now available in the Indian border town of Jaigaon. There is no dealer of the bags presently in Phuentsholing. However, some have even started business of the bags by delivering them to the shopkeepers.

Meanwhile, the price of bags ranges from Nu 130 to 230 per kilogram. Each kilogram contains from 50 to 194 pieces of bags depending on the size. Some have even started ordering the bags from Siliguri and Kolkata.

With restriction on the plastic carry bags, shopkeepers say the non-woven bags are the best alternative.

“Without alternatives, the bags are now offered to the customers. However, sometimes we have to provide double plastics for a single good if it’s heavier. Customers ask and we have to offer them. If not they shout at us,” Umesh Prasad, a grocery owner said.

Commercial complexes have also been practicing the use of these carry bags since a long time.

Meanwhile, some shopkeepers are disgruntled over the reinforcement of the ban by the National Environment Commission (NEC) on the use of plastic items including carry bags, doma packing plastics and ice cream packing pouches. 

They said it caused inconveniences.

“The plastics used in wrapping packed chips and biscuits like Parle-G, which come under small packets, are also restricted when brought in loose packets,” a shopkeeper, Pema W Sherpa, said.

“The volunteers at the entry points remove the wrapped plastics causing inconveniences to us. We are confused why such plastics are not allowed as it’s not specified in the notification,” she added.

And although some groceries use paper bags as alternative, they say most customers refuse the paper bags while having to carry heavy objects. “The paper bags are not strong and durable,” a shopkeeper said.

Meanwhile, even vegetable vendors at the vegetable market have started using the bags. They say a kilogram of the bags, for which they pay Nu 260, lasts for a day.

Tika Maya, a vegetable vendor, said a kilogram of plastic carry bags would last for three days and comes at a lower cost too. “Some vegetables, particularly mushroom, brought in non-woven bags dry faster. That’s our challenge, otherwise we are ready to offer alternative bags,” she said.

Meanwhile, a biodegradable carry bag distributor based in Thimphu, Tenzin Drakpa of Druk Green Enterprise said the demand for the bags is increasing daily.

So far he has delivered to Thimphu and supplied a few in Phuentsholing. He sells bags at Nu 90 per kilogram and they are procured from New Delhi in India.

Talking to Business Bhutan, the Chief of Waste Management Division with NEC, Thinley Dorji, said the commission is exploring the possibility of providing alternatives to plastic carry bags. Since the ban is limited to mostly carry bags and doma wrappers, the use of non-woven carry bags are allowed as they take shorter duration to degrade.

 “After enforcement of the ban we will decide on it,” he said. “The non-woven carry bags could also be banned once concrete alternative is established. The commission plans to implement the ban slowly without much hindrance to the public,” he said.

According to Thinley Dorji, NEC has also been receiving multiple proposals to import biodegradable carry bags and to set up manufacturing units too. The commission is reviewing the proposals. Alternatives can be any bio-degradable bag which can be reused. Jute bags and other baskets serve as alternatives as they are more “viable and sustainable”.

He added that NEC has also started awareness programs on the reinforcement of ban nationwide and the commission has uploaded two video clips for the awareness of the ban to the people.

Meanwhile, shop owners not abiding by the provisions of the plastic ban from April 1 this year will be penalized with Nu 500 for the first offence, Nu 1,000 for the second offence, and subsequent cancellation of the license for the third offence.

Krishna Ghalley from Phuentsholing