On 18 March, 2019, it will be exactly one year since the government of Maharashtra declared a ban on single use disposable plastic items in the state. The ban legislation laid out an ambitious scope to cover several non biodegradable disposable items from plastic carry bags to plastic cutlery and thermocol packaging. Within the first few months of the declaration it also met with resistance from the industry and the public and was refined to make it more realistic and achievable.

How effective has the ban been? Do people know about it? Are consumers and shopkeepers respecting the ban? Do they agree with it in principle? Do they understand the need for the ban? Do bans like this make a difference on the ground?

It was to answer these questions that eCoexist initiated a survey on the ground in the city of Pune, in collaboration with Oikos and Ecological Society. More than 40 volunteers came together to conduct the survey and visited shopkeepers all over Pune. Fergusson College, Waida College, Bharati Vidyapeeth and Kaveri college students were involved in the survey, along with several neighbourhood groups. Using smart phones, they answered a 15 question survey which helped us collect data about the effectiveness of the ban.

This data was then analyzed by a team of four members led by Sonya Sachdeva, a social scientist of Indian origin based in Chicago, USA.

The results of the study were encouraging and the team unanimously felt that indeed, the ban is showing results in its first year of implementation. This newsletter outlines the overall results of the survey.
In Summary
  1. 98% of the shops are aware of the ban
  2. 82% think its a good idea
  3. 61% shops have stopped giving out plastic carry bags
  4. 61% still face demand from consumers to give them a bag
  5. From those that have stopped giving out plastic bags
    1.     40% shops have switched to paper bags
    2.     18% shops have switched to cloth bags
    3.     11% are not giving out any alternatives
  6. 56% stores have not faced an official check and
  7. 53% of the shopkeepers do not know that non woven material is actually plastic.
The Questions
The survey was primarily directed at retail shopkeepers - from vegetable vendors to street food vendors , small and large grocery stores and restaurants along with several other shoptypes. 42 locations in Pune were covered and 1142 shops were interviewed. The questions started with a check on the levels of awareness about the ban, whether it was percieved postively or negatively, and whether shops had indeed stopped giving out plastic bags.

Although the ban regulation covers a wide range of single use disposable plastic and thermocol items , eCoexist has been focussed on one item which is the plastic carry bag. The plastic carry bag is used for a wide range of purposes most of which are easy to replace with paper or cloth bags.

The questionnaire checked if the shops that had stopped supply of plastic carry bags, were giving out other alternative solutions and whether they were charging the customer for these. It also inquired about whether shops understood that non woven material was in fact also plastic.

FInally the survey asked about whether there have been official checks on the shops.
The Stores
The categories of shop types studied by the survey include:
    1. Accessories
    2. Bakery
    3. Cafes and food stalls
    4. Dairy products
    5. Electronics
    6. Flower shop
    7. Garment stores
    8. Health and Nutrition
    9. Household items
    10. Larger grocers
    11. Meat and fish merchants
    12. Miscallenous
    13. Restaurants
    14. Shoe stores
    15. Small Grocers
    16. Sports, Toys and Gifts
    17. Vegetable Vendors
The Answers
Do you know there is a plastic ban?
98% said Yes!
Do you think the ban is a good idea?
82% think its a good idea!
Do customers still demand a plastic bag from you?
61% said Yes!
The fact that consumers are still asking for a plastic carry bags shows that the awareness levels in the consumers needs to be addressed. In fact, the ban originally was supposed to penalise anyone seen offering or using a plastic carry bag. If consumers are still asking for bags, then the pressure is mainly on the shopkeepers to resist this demand.
Have you stopped giving out plastic bags?
61% said Yes!
If you have stopped giving out plastic bags, what alternative do you provide?
40%  Paper bags 18%   Cloth Bags 11%  No alternatives
Paper seems to be the most preferred alternative being provided by shops because it is cheap and continues to be disposable. Around 26% of the shops are giving out no alternative and expecting consumers to bring their own bags. 18% are supplying cloth bags - in a few cases volunteers reported that shopkeepers were trying out systems of bag rentals where you could get a cloth bag on a returnable basis. Some of the other creative alternatives reported were  vendors who were using banana leaf to wrap fish and retailers who were collecting old calenders to make their own paper bags.
How much do you charge customers for the alternative bags?
77% of the shops are not charging for the alternatives they provide- this means that they are still bearing the cost of providing an alternative themselves.
Did you know that non woven bags are also plastic bags?
In several states in India, where plastic carry bags have been banned, it got mistakenly replaced with non woven bags as people 'think' that it is fabric and not plastic. Non woven is a material that is made by thermally fusing fibres of plastic as opposed to weaving them. It is only marginally more expensive than plastic sheets, and has a texture that feels like it may be fabric. This question was key to check whether shopkeepers understand what non woven material really is.
Have any officials come to conduct a check on your store?
This is where the government can do more to ensure that there are regular check ups. As the ban becomes older, it tends to be neglected and the fear of penalties fades away. It was found that the small vendors were most fearful of penalties because they could not afford them.
Mapping the results
We created maps of the results as per locality and compared them with socio economic data as well as waste collection data available on the PMC website to study the differences in various parts of Pune.

Most localities seem to be aware of the ban.

Areas south of Central Pune seem to be most likely to disapprove of the ban.

Supply of plastic bags is greatest in areas where customer demand is high.

Awareness of plastic ban in localities of Pune
Comparing the results
We studied the data to compare five of the shop types that are related to food sale - namely ..
The Large Grocer
The Small Grocer
The Restaurant
The Meat Vendor
The Vegetable Vendor
The survey revealed that while small grocers and vegetable vendors were respectful of the ban this came from a fear of penalty, as they find the fines most difficult to pay. Meat and fish vendors have not been able to find a practical alternative to plastic carry bags yet - they also face the most customer demand. Large grocers are most aware of the fact that non woven material is plastic and included in the banned items. Official checks seems to be focussed on larger establishments such as restaurants.
Fish vendor at Shivaji market Pune, Photo: Lolita Gupta
While the results of the survey are encouraging, volunteers also reported that the supply chain of plastic bags continues and they are freely available and distributed in large central markets like Shivaji market and Market Yard. Black garbage bins can be seen being sold at traffic signals, and these are often very thin bags.

The fear of  penalty is still quite strong in the shops, however the government needs to keep a consistent check.

As the ban grows older, it is important for regular monitoring to ensure that the city does not slip back into the use of plastic bags. Such surveys need to be conducted once every year for the next few years to check the progress of the ban. Similar surveys also need to be conducted for the other banned items such as plastic cutlery and thermocol packaging which have completely different usage patterns.

In the 2019 Swacch Survekshan checks, Pune has slipped from 10th to 14th place ( cities above 10 lakhs) and to 37th place ( cities above 1 lakh). We can definitely do better than this if we pay more attention to each of the items banned by the government and commit to eliminating it from our daily use.
Express Report : 56000 kg of plastic confiscated
This survey is a voluntary effort coordinated by the eCoexist team - Manisha Gutman, Sonali Gohain and Akshay Paygude. You can contact us for further details and if you want to help us conduct a similar survey in your city.
The Croak is a weekly environmental newsletter put out by the eCoexist team. It is the voice of the environment on its last legs, the final croak that can either be a plea for attention or a call of triumph as the frogs jump out of the well of ignorance and denial. Satirical, urgent and wise the newsletter brings to your attention, topics of global environmental relevance as well as emerging encouraging alternatives. Put together by a team of passionate Nature lovers, The Croak hopes to look at the environmental crisis in its face. It is a tool to reconnect readers to Nature, through questioning and self reflection. To understand the outer environment as a reflection of our own inner state, individually and as a species. And to take responsibility for enabling change.
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