Second time plastic ban not a success story

Twenty years after Bhutan first banned the use and sale of plastic carry bags, doma wrappers, and ice cream pouches, the ban was reinforced nationwide again on April 1, 2019. However, one year later the ban is not a success story. Plastic bags and doma wrappers are still available in the market at the moment but the ban is an ongoing process.

The National Environment Commission (NEC) has clarified that the ban is on business establishments and not on customers, who reuse and carry their plastic bags.

Chief environment officer with the waste management division at the commission, Thinley Dorji, said the ban is mainly for carry bags and doma wrappers since ice cream pouches are no longer in use. “The ban is still on but enforcement is not implemented strictly,” he said adding they are sorting out the matter slowly.

The ban is also on biodegradable carry bags and non-fabric carry bag as it was found to be equally hazardous to the environment, if not dumped properly. They are still working on strategies for how to enforce the ban effectively without causing inconvenience to the general public. However, the ban is not applied to local products such as zaw, flattened rice, chili powder, and vegetables that are packaged in plastics as he said that it will cause inconvenience to those who run a small business. “The enforcement on the ban is a little bit relaxed at the moment,” he said.

They are trying to come up with strategies on how to best eliminate the use of plastic which has a greater impact on the environment and health with the flagship program and Waste Management Strategies.

He said as an alternative, people come up with biodegradable bags but research found that it is equally hazardous as plastics as it causes more damage to the environment. So NEC suggests if people could use basket bags locally woven by women which can be used several times. “I believe, the handmade basket can be used for three to four years,” said Thinley Dorji adding the ban is for plastics which are used once and thrown.

He said daily utensils and products are all made of plastic but it is used for a longer duration but the plastic bags and doma wrappers are used one time, “so the ban is for them.” The ban is not imposed on the things that do not have alternative packages like noodles, biscuits, and other packaged food.

He further said that both the import and use of plastic are banned including the manufacturing of plastic, “nevertheless people deal with it illegally; if caught  it will be seized,” he added.

A grocery shopkeeper owner Pema said they purchase plastic bags from Centenary Farmer’s Market (CFM) at Nu 200 per kilogram and Nu 160 to 150 while in discount. She said mostly customers come directly from the office without shopping bags, so they have to provide plastic bags.

Tashi Tobgay, a vegetable seller at CFM said they are charged Nu 250 for a kilogram of plastic bag but with discount, they buy for Nu 200/kg. He said he is coming with the idea which will help customers to buy vegetables without the use of plastic bags.

Aum Pem at CFM sells plastic bags at Nu 200 per kg and Nu 180 at discount. “I don’t know the vendor of plastic bags but when they sell, we buy in bulk,” she said. She said people do not buy vegetables if they do not provide plastic bags and rather move to other areas.

One of the vegetable vendors at CFM said, they sell their products to those carrying rucksack and backpack and rarely use plastic bags. “We don’t deal with plastic bags,” he said.

However, plastic bags and doma wrappers are still available in the market and an absolute ban is yet to be enforced.   

Tenzin Lhamo from Thimphu