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Monday, 14 May, 2001, 13:02 GMT 14:02 UK
Bombay gets tough on plastic bags
Fruit and vegetable stall
Market traders are not allowed to use plastic bags
By Lovejit Dhaliwal in Bombay

Bombay is stepping up its campaign against plastic bags, with police raids on factories and shops that may be manufacturing or handling them.

Plastic bags have been creating havoc

Ajit Kumar Jain, Bombay council
The council banned the bags last year, to stop them littering the streets and clogging up the city's sewerage system.

At vegetable markets, traders now hand out recycled paper bags

There is still plenty of sweeping and clearing up after the markets close, but where the ban has been strictly enforced, the amount of litter on the streets has been dramatically cut.

'No value'

The municipal council is keen to see the same happen elsewhere in the city.

"Plastic bags have been creating havoc," says Ajit Kumar Jain, one of the council commissioners. "Number one, it is adding to the garbage.

"You know, they don't have much of a recycling value, therefore even the rag pickers, waste pickers, they do not pick those bags and they sort of dump it in the drains.

People don't know what the plastic does when it leaks

Professor Rashmi Mayur
"Now once they are in the drain, they completely clog the drains which contributes to flooding intensity, so that is primarily the reason why thin plastic bags are being banned."

With the monsoon season due to arrive soon, the council is keen to avoid a repetition of last year's flooding. But this is not the only problem caused by plastic bags.

Professor Rashmi Mayur, an adviser to the United Nations on environmental issues, and head of the International Institute for a Sustainable Future, says the effects of plastic bag littering reach far beyond the city, and there are health implications for everyone.

"Increasingly, all the farms are saturated with the plastic bags, and people don't know what the plastic does when it leaks," he says.

"And they grow vegetables, they grow grains and it's all up-taken by the vegetables and grains and these chemicals have an enormous amount of neurological problems in the blood and so on."

Tough penalties

A small municipal enforcement team carries out raids on innocuous-looking shops. The team watches suspect premises for days.

"For 15 days, we are coming here... we are getting 100-150 cases of plastic bags which are very thin and coloured," said Pradeep Savan, the assistant security officer in charge of one raid.

The penalties for handling or manufacturing these thin bags are relatively high. Shops and factories can be heavily fined and closed down for a month. The council says its campaign has been a success, pointing out that it has seized well over 2,000kg of plastic bags.

"This has become an issue. I mean, people have started talking about plastic bags," says Ajit Kumar Jain. "You go to any shop and the shop people are also very cautious when dispensing the things, and everybody, by and large, has understood what exactly is the problem created or caused by the plastic bags.

But despite the posters and notices, thin polythene bags still appear on the streets. It is clear that Bombay's people need to take this issue more seriously.

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30 Dec 00 | South Asia
Bombay faces population boom
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