The carry bags just had to go. Plastic had been the taken-for-granted option for carry bags, big, medium and small for years. When Kerala introduced the single-use plastic ban on New Year’s Day 2020, quite a lot of the shops had already put plastic replacements in place. But there was of course a lot more to go.
“Like the small plastic covers we use to parcel curries. Especially for bulk orders that’s urgently required, like a restaurant which supplies food to the patients at a hospital nearby. We don’t yet have a substitute for plastic covers which were used to wrap up curries. But we have taken a strict stance to avoid plastic carry bags at all places. Avoid whatever plastic we can avoid, like straws, disposable cups, spoons, plates and so on,” says Jayapal, General Secretary of the Kerala Hotels and Residents Association.
Zam Zam, a popular restaurant in Thiruvananthapuram, has found a remedy for plastic covers in aluminium foil papers. “Even before the plastic ban came into effect, we had switched to foil covers for parcels,” says Thousib of the billing department at Zam Zam, Palayam. However, contrary to popular perception, aluminium foil isn’t eco-friendly and may not be a suitable alternative to plastic.
Much before the plastic ban, quite a few supermarkets had also already shifted to cloth bags, with customers needing to pay Rs 10 or Rs 15, depending on the size. They could always bring cloth bags from home instead. “We made the switch to cloth bags and paper covers. Vegetables are packed in brown paper covers. The cloth bags we use come from the Thiruvananthapuram Corporation,” says Binu Jose, manager at RMC Multishoppe supermarket in Thiruvananthapuram.
Cloth bag units by Kudumbashree members
The Thiruvananthapuram Corporation’s initiative to ban plastic bags came in March 2016, says health officer Dr Sasikumar. “Even then plastic bags would come from other states. As part of the plastic ban enforced this year, we’d planned to start 10 stitching units to make cloth bags, to be run by members of Kudumbashree who are without jobs,” he says.
Out of these, five have already started in Muttada, Vallakkadavu, Pongumoodu, Kunnapara and Nettayam. A sixth would soon be started in Nemom. “We have already distributed 2 lakh sanchis (cloth bags) at 50% subsidy. It is available in any of these stitching units or else in the main office of the Corporation. It is also available for sale online,” adds Sasikumar who is also the implementing officer of the project.
Big textile shops like Pothys and Ramachandran in Thiruvananthapuram order their cloth bags from the Corporation’s units, Sasikumar adds.
Orders come from other districts too, he says. “An order for 3,000 cloth bags has just come from Alappuzha.”
Hotels and restaurants are also substituting plastic cutlery with other materials such as wood. “Plastic covers became paper or cloth covers. Plastic plates have been replaced by paper plates and the spoons we pack are made of wood. This is of course for the parcels. For the diners visiting the restaurant, it’s already been ceramic plates and steel cutlery,” says Anoop, General Manager at Calicut Notebook, a restaurant in Kaloor, Kochi.
Paragon in Kozhikode, a popular restaurant, is going for bioplastic covers. Bioplastic are plastic made from organic materials like vegetable fats, saw dust and recycled food waste. They can also be made from plastic bottles using microorganisms.
“The bioplastic covers are supplied from outside. Spoons will be made of palm spathe, straws made of paper. High quality paper will be used in place of juice cups. We just need to figure out a way for parceling biriyani without the curries leaking. The bioplastic covers are really thin and the edges may tear if the packing is not done properly,” says Nelson, restaurant manager of Paragon.
It is not just food either. Book stores too need to switch to non-plastic options. “We have switched to paper covers. This becomes a problem for some customers who may need to travel long distance by bus or train. Paper covers break especially if there are too many books inside. As of now, this is the alternative we are using,” says Madhu, manager at DC Books, Convent Jn, Kochi.
Exhibition of plastic alternatives in capital
A timely exhibition of plastic alternatives is being put up in Kerala’s capital by Haritha Keralam Mission in association with the Local Self Government Department and Suchitwa Mission. It would introduce alternatives to plastic materials and methods to scientifically treat waste to the visitors. The exhibition would have 100 stalls from Kerala and outside the state, exhibiting home compost methods, reusable notebooks and pens and papers, bamboo toothbrushes, compact plastic shedding machines, interlocking tiles, sanitary napkin incinerator, magic purses, collection hubs for collecting waste from source, units producing organic manure, straws made of leaves and steel, bio bins made of mattresses and mats and so on. The exhibition will be on at Sooryakanthi in Kanakakunnu till January 22.