Yangchen C Rinzin
Almost seven months after the National Environment Commission (NEC) reinforced the plastic ban, every grocery shop, vegetable vendors and other business outlets are still flooded with various plastic bags.
NEC, while reinforcing the ban on single-use plastic carry bags, doma wrappers and ice cream pouches this April claimed they are serious but many are now questioning their seriousness.
Many people said implementation of the ban is weak and that they are confused if the ban is real.
Few entrepreneurs, who ventured into paper bags and other alternatives after NEC’s claims expressed the ban does not exist anymore.
Three entrepreneurs studied the market for demand and potential.
An entrepreneur, Karma Pila Rangdol, said although they had other paper business strategies, they focused on paper bag business because of the ban on plastics.
He said when they conducted the research, they found a huge demand for paper bags and most of the shopkeepers told them they would buy the bags. “That is why I and my cousin decided to venture into a business.”
Investing almost Nu 1.9 million, they completed all the formalities; set up a factory, imported recycled raw material paper from India. The whole process took almost six months to come up with the final product.
But once their product hit the market, they realised there was no buyers.
Another entrepreneur, Kinga Lhendup, said their business failed because plastics were readily available in the market.
“When we started, the ban had just been reinforced and the buyers gave positive response realising they cannot use plastic anymore,” he said. “But by the time we came into the market, the ban was not enforced and many were confused about it.”
It was found that apart from a few large grocery shops buying paper bags, most businesses continue to use plastics. These plastic bags are either bought from Jaigaon, India or bought through the black market.
An entrepreneur said that when they try to sell paper bags or market the product, the shopkeepers say the demand for plastic is more from the customers and they’ve to use the plastics if they’ve to retain the business. “Although there are few who take paper bag from us, they also use plastic in case the customers demand plastic.”
Shopkeepers agreed that the ban is not serious and they have started using plastic bags because of demand from customers.
Another entrepreneur who started a business of non-woven bags had to stop the business because of the ban, as it is also considered plastic. “I don’t understand why our business is shut when plastic bags are still available.”
He said banks sued him for failing to repay the loan.
Entrepreneurs are pinning their hope on how serious the government is on the ban of plastic bags.
However, chief environment officer, Thinley Namgyel, said that the plastic ban is still on although the NEC is going slow with the ban and the monitoring process.
He said this is to avoid inconvenience to the people and let shopkeepers sell their plastic stocks.
“We’re aware of what’s happening in the market, but we’re not going strict at go,” he said. “We’ve been monitoring few shops that had plastics in stock although some buy it from the black market, which makes it difficult to monitor.”
Thinley Namgyel also added that although it might take time, the ban would be strengthened and made effective.
On the entrepreneurs, he said that NEC has received calls and information and they advised them not to get disheartened and to continue the business, as the ban would be soon implemented strictly.
“We’re currently working on the awareness programme and proposal for an alternative,” he said. “The impact is there and the use of plastic has at least decreased by 30 percent.”