From Hawkers To Hotels: How Is Mumbai Coping With The Plastic Ban

Cloth bags, glass bottles, and paper straws have checked in

Shraddha Varma

After the 2005 deluge in Mumbai shook the country; plastic and polythene bags were declared as the culprits of the unfortunate incident 13 years ago. BMC enforced a ban on polythene bags of below 50 micron thickness along with penalties and punishments. This year, not just Mumbai but the whole of Maharashtra is aiming to make the state completely plastic free.

On June 23, 2018, the state government enforced a long-overdue ban on use of items such as plastic carry-bags, plastic/thermocol disposable cutlery, straws, and a variety of other items. This decision made Mahrashtra the 18th state in the country to implement a complete ban on plastic. While the prohibition was a much-needed one, it did initially jolt Mumbai’s food and hospitality business. As the drive against plastic gains momentum, we decided to speak to various people from these businesses for a little insight on the impact of the ban and how are they coping with the sudden change.

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The Struggles of Smaller Businesses

Deepak Singh, who owns a fast food eatery in Walkeshwar, had mixed feelings about it. Though he knew it would be beneficial for all of us in the long run, he was worried what impact it could have on his business. However, his fears were put to rest when his customers started carrying cloth and paper bags with them. For people who forget to get along a bag, he happily helps them with paper bags, he has made using old newspapers. In our brief conversation, he also mentioned that he is still waiting for the officials or active local groups to explain vendors like him on the alternatives to plastic. The big price disparity between polythene bags and its alternatives (cloth bags, jute bags, etc.) are giving them jitters.

Sitaram Bangera of Manohar Hotel, Dadar, said delivering food has become difficult, but not impossible. Bangera and his partner have come with a solution to the ban—steel tiffins. “Our delivery boys take the food items in steel tiffins. Customers are then asked to empty the dabbas and return it so we can reuse them for our next order.” However, he expresses his disappointment on not being able to take bulk or multiple orders at a time because of insufficient resources. If all the steel tiffins are out for delivery, then the restaurant can’t take orders until they are back. “The overall revenue of the restaurant is getting affected, since a large chunk of the business comes from delivery orders, and we feel helpless because we’re still finding sustainable and affordable alternatives for packing food,” says Bangera.

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This raises the question as to how other restaurants, who can’t afford investing in such resources—steel tiffins, jute bags, and paper-based packaging—will address the issue? Not just small eateries, but takeaway-only food set-ups, which have seen a boom in the last two years will be the most affected with the plastic ban? Some businesses such as Sprout Gourmet and Urban Pantry have been using paper-based products as packaging even before the plastic ban was enforced. However, when it comes to delivering gravy-based items, the durability of these boxes have always been a concern.  

How are Bigger Businesses Coping?

Faruq, manager at London Taxi, a gastropub in Lower Parel, said, “We have implemented sustainable practices ever since we launched in 2017. One of our recent moves was to introduce paper straws instead of the plastic ones.” Chai Point outlets across the city too have done the same. However, with so many people turning towards paper, there is a possibility, in the long run, it will affect the environment too.

Also Read: Confessions of a Plastic Straw Addict

Coming to luxury hotels, Hotel Sahara Star and ITC Hotels said they have adopted measures to cut plastic use. Salil Fadnis, Deputy General Manager at Hotel Sahara Star said that controlling plastic use may seem difficult, but it is not impossible. “We are looking for substitutes and are getting there. Aluminium bins, cloth bags and glass cutlery along with reusable toiletries have been some of the major replacements post the ban,” he adds. Meanwhile, Kuldeep Bhartee, Area Manager (West) – ITC Hotels and General Manager – ITC Maratha said ITC as a company has always been acknowledged for its eco-friendly inventiveness and as the drive against plastic gains momentum their properties are taking extra care to avoid plastic. The hotel chain has started using wooden cutlery, bio-degradable packing boxes, paper straws, and 100-percent compostable garbage bags. For hotel chains such as ITC, who’ve incorporated eco-friendly and sustainable functioning since the beginning, this shift doesn’t seem a major one, but what about others?

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