Shimla, Jan 19 (IANS) In India's first ban on using polythene for packaging non-essential eatables, especially potato chips and candies, the Himachal Pradesh High Court ruled that this will save the environment.
"There is a need for preventing degradation of environment," observed a division bench consisting of Justice Deepak Gupta and Justice Sanjay Karol earlier this week, while hearing a petition on indiscriminate use of plastic.
The order imposed a blanket ban across the state from April 1 on the use of polythene for packaging non-essential eatables like potato chips, cookies, candy, chewing gum, ice cream, chocolates, noodles and candies, which the court said are junk food.
The ban is likely to have wider ramifications as scores of multinational companies, which sell such eatables, will be impacted.
However, the ban exempts essential items like milk and vegetable oils, which are usually packaged in non-biodegradable material.
"It is not that 100 percent biodegradable and compostable plastic and packaging material is not available in the market. It may increase the cost of the product, but then people indulging in the luxury of consumption of such consumable articles, edible or otherwise, need to share the burden of costs," the court said.
The court, say legal experts, believes the price rise will be a deterrent for voluminous consumption of junk food including aerated beverages, which contain a high concentration of synthetic sugars.
"We are of the opinion that there should be a ban on only those non-essential items which fall in the category of junk food such as wafers, chips, sweets, noodles, chocolates, ice cream candy, biscuits and 'namkeen'," the court said.
"These should be brought into Himachal Pradesh only in biodegradable packaging. Even soft drinks should be brought in glass bottles or other biodegradable packaging but not in non-biodegradable packaging," said the judges.
They added: "We also make it clear that if we find that this experiment is successful, then we may expand the scope of this order to cover other non-essential items also."
The court, which will next hear the matter Mar 15, directed the companies to opt for tetra packs, tin packing or biodegradable plastic of 20 micro metre thickness in packaging junk food.
"This (biodegradable packaging) may make these items slightly more expensive, but if their consumption is reduced, it will be better for the health of children. This may finally end up in saving crores of rupees, which the state spends on healthcare," the judges said.
They also said that "degradation of the environment has improved ever since the plastic was banned. The streams are cleaner".
The court asked a committee constituted by it to direct sellers of books, magazines, readymade clothes, suitcases, handbags, utensils, gift items, mattresses and other items, which are wrapped in low grade polythene, to remove and collect it so that it can be scientifically disposed off.
On mineral water in plastic bottles, the court observed: "The state may consider vending machines to sell pure and clean water at tourist centres so that the plastic bottles can be re-used by tourists... This will drastically reduce the sale of such bottles."
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)