India weighs alternatives amid plastic bag bans

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In India, stakeholders are analyzing the pros and cons of alternatives amid growing plastics bag bans in the populous country.

Paper bags require the cutting down of trees for pulp, and commonly used cloth bags are also a poor option,  activist Vasundhara Menon, environmental activist tells The Hindu. “[Cloth bags] bags are 98% polypropylene. They can neither be recycled nor composted. They emit carcinogenic fumes when burned,” she says.

Starch-based bioplastics, meanwhile, offer a compostable option. “Large-scale use of bio-compostable plastics would put a huge demand on agriculture to increase the production of tapioca, corn and potato though they can even be made out of water hyacinth. In a way, it would benefit agriculture in the country and in turn our farmers,” said Santhosh Kandamchira, general secretary of Green Fraternity, an environmental group. “The 50 microns rule is not applicable to bio-compostable bags and hence the vendor gets more quantity at a lower price,” he added.

There is a downside to these starch-based options, however. “They are technically and theoretically reliable. But they cannot be differentiated from a normal plastic carry bag very easily and hence there are chances of vendors passing off plastic bags as bio-compostable material. However, they can be identified through proper test,” said lawyer and environmental activist Harish Vasudevan.