How is the Plastic Ban affecting businesses?

By Abid Hussain Barlaskar , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Digital
Last updated : July 24, 2018 04:55 AM
The recent plastic ban in Maharashtra and UP -violation of which can lead to a penalty of upto Rs.25,000- is being discussed and dissected online and offline. Meanwhile, we wonder: how are businesses in the e-commerce and 'delivery ecosystem' coping?

Over the years, plastic has gained firm footing as a household item; be it carry-bags for grocery or the plastic cutlery of the 'use-and-throw' variety. It's not just households but big businesses too have taken in plastic as an indispensable part of their inventory. The ban on plastic in Maharashtra is set to impact all who consider plastic an integral part of their daily affairs.

Big businesses like e-commerce websites, food delivery platforms and consumable brands among others, largely rely on plastic items to deliver their products to consumers. The recent ban on plastic in Maharashtra jolted many of these businesses and got many to look for alternatives.

From PET bottles, wrappers, plastic packaging, polythene carry-bags, disposable cutlery, and even plastic straws, we've seen them all. It's the pros of plastic that managed to get it this far. Plastic is durable, water-proof, mobile and easy to handle, and has multiple usages. However, another feature of plastic is that it is non-biodegradable; that means it does not decompose naturally and eventually ends up polluting the environment, and clogging drains among other adverse effects. After Maharashtra, the Uttar Pradesh government has also imposed a state-wide polythene ban starting July 16.

The plastic ban in Maharashtra was enforced on June 23 prohibiting the use of items like plastic carry-bags, plastic/ thermocol disposable cutlery, straws and a variety of other items. However, as per reports in major media outlets, the ban was later relaxed by the state government following "intense lobbying by multinational companies and plastic industry bodies for softer rules and extensions."

"Plastic Packaging material used for products intended for sale in the State of Maharashtra through E-Commerce shall be allowed only for three months, however, they shall develop Environmental-Friendly Alternatives for packaging of materials within three months. They shall create a mechanism for the collection of the plastic packaging material used during three months and ensure the recycling and final disposal," read the government order dated June 30.

While the relaxation has brought some respite, brands now need to find viable alternatives to plastic.

We at afaqs! got in touch with various brands for a little insight on the impact of the ban and how businesses were coping with the sudden change.

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While some responded to our queries, others had no comments.

In its inputs, food ordering and delivery platform Swiggy mentions that the brand has been busy connecting restaurants with distributors of alternative options (paper, aluminium, wood) to disposable plastic cutlery. Like most food delivery platforms, items delivered by Swiggy are normally packed in plastic containers and are also accompanied by plastic cutlery like spoons and forks.

"Swiggy is helping its exclusive partners get inventory on priority. This includes sourcing them from Mumbai and Bangalore. We are giving our delivery partners cloth and paper bags to carry their food boxes during instances when the restaurants aren't ready with the same," the brand says.

E-commerce giant Amazon seems to have accepted the ban in a rather positive manner. In a response to our queries, Amazon says, "We welcome the recent decision of the Maharashtra government to curb the growth of plastic waste. Amazon's packaging innovations are a big focus of our work on sustainability and are designed to reduce waste while delighting customers and ensuring that products arrive intact. We are committed to and invested in this work and intend to work with the government in developing alternatives because it's a triple win - it's good for business, good for the planet and good for our customers and communities."

Online lingerie shopping platform Zivame claims to be using reusable and recyclable cartons for over 80 per cent of its deliveries. That way, the brand, despite being in the business of packaged delivery of goods, might also be in the lesser affected lot.

In its response, Zivame says, "We at Zivame are conscious about environmental safety and this reflects in our product packaging across our omnichannel routes. We are one of the few players who use reusable and recyclable cartons for more than 80 per cent of online deliveries, while we only use 100 per cent recyclable paper bags at retail. We are committed to the cause and will keep bringing in new initiatives to support the cause."

Speaking about the impact of the ban on its business, food delivery platform Zomato informs afaqs! that there was a dip in the volume of orders in the first week post the ban. The brand further mentions that it has been encouraging restaurants not to send plastic cutlery with orders. "Zomato has always been in favour of the move, as the long-term public good far outweighs the short-term hassles. We have been working closely with our restaurant partners since the ban announcement and have been encouraging them to comply. The decision is for the greater good of everyone in the longer run," says a Zomato spokesperson.

"While there was a dip in the volume of orders due to unavailability of commercially viable packaging material in the first week of the ban, there has since been significant growth in the number of orders. We have also been working with our restaurant partners to connect them to distributors of alternative and sustainable means of packaging such as - cardboard boxes, paper, aluminium and wooden cutlery, and jute bags," the spokesperson further adds.


Online grocery shopping platform Grofers, was quick to put out a 15-second long digital ad on its social media platforms. The ad features the ban and asks consumers to 'keep calm and carry-bag on'.

Afaqs! got in touch with brand experts to find out what the ban really means for businesses.

Tarun Singh Chauhan, brand consultant from TSC consulting, is of the opinion that today's consumers are aware and they might soon start avoiding brands that don't comply with the policy of the state.

Tarun Singh Chauhan Tarun Singh Chauhan

Suresh L Suresh L

"The unorganised sector that uses the wrong plastic will be the most affected. The usage there is the most and it cannot be clearly identified. All brands of the organised sector which use plastic will have some issues, but will eventually find a solution," Chauhan says.

Speaking of what brands should do to cope with the changing scenario, Chauhan has this to say, "Brands must go back to packaging solutions that are eco-friendly. This is a global issue now and there is no point living in denial.

"What brands should do is promote disposal solutions of plastic. Fortunately, plastic has many enemies and brands need to be seen in an environmentally friendly space to survive. There is no point driving on the left side of the road," Chauhan adds.

According to independent brand consultant Suresh L, almost all brands that offer packaged products will soon be battling the challenge of finding viable alternatives to plastic.

Speaking on brands which will be impacted most, Suresh says, "Soft drink and mineral water brands will find the task doubly daunting. They will not only have to find an alternative to their bottles but also make a major tweak to their logistics and inventory. While they've been given a temporary reprieve to continue using their PET bottles, it is subject to a buy-back condition which calls for their supply chain to work both ways - to and from the customer. All the leading milk-in-sachet brands will be affected as well. E-commerce giants will be affected too, but their primary packaging source has been corrugated boards and boxes. Besides, they have been given time to find an alternative to the plastic in their packaging. Cloth and foil are sure to become viable options and hopefully, paper will not be over-exploited or we will be facing problems of a different nature soon."

Suresh is also of the opinion that communicating the new government order and its support for the plastic ban via various platforms, would certainly enhance a brand's image and reflect its eco-friendly sentiments to the target audience but is set to create confusion.

"Imagine every brand reworking its packaging and flooding the market with its 'new, improved' version. There's bound to be a lot of confusion once the consumer goes about looking for the brand that he has been buying regularly. Brands would have to find a way of tackling this," Suresh adds.

When discussing the way forward, Suresh adds, "India has seen several examples of a retail revolution. When consumer durables seemed out of reach to the common man, there were entrepreneurs who introduced instalment schemes. When FMCG products were too expensive for the daily wagers, brands introduced sachets. So, what's the way ahead for brands? Whoever cracks it first will surely be a B-school case study some day in the future."

Suresh also considers the ban an opportunity for agencies and design houses which, apart from playing with colour, fonts and design, can now showcase their knowledge of different materials as well.

For feedback/comments, please write to newsteam@afaqs.com

First Published : July 19, 2018 05:29 AM

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