INDIA – The Supreme Court has stayed on the Himachal Pradesh state’s High Court ruling, which bans the sale of non-essential food items packed in non-biodegradable packaging, until 13 February 2014.
On 26 December 2013, the Himachal Pradesh High Court ruled in favour of a ban on plastic packaging for junk food items, including potato chips, wafer biscuits, chocolates, sweets etc, effective 26 January 2014. Plastic packaging for essential food items including bread, milk and dairy products was also to have been banned from 1 April, while beverages such as carbonated soft drinks could only be sold in glass bottles; bottled water is exempt.
However, in mid-January, the Himachal Pradesh Beopar Mandal (traders’ chamber of commerce) sent a delegation to Delhi to seek legal advice and submitted an appeal to India’s Supreme Court, which has now stayed the ban until 13 February while it studies the issue.
The state Beopar Mandal’s president, Madan Lal Khurana, said manufacturers were not willing to change the packaging for a small percentage of the clientele in Himachal Pradesh, and would probably choose to forgo that business rather than take on the cost and complexity of integrating biodegradable packaging into their production process; Himchal Pradesh is estimated to constitute only 5% of the overall national market.
This, Khurana explained, would not only be a financial setback for traders, but would ultimately affect consumers too.
Stocks of food products in plastic packaging are beginning to run out in stores across Himachal Pradesh, as uncertainty continues over whether the ban will be implemented. Many retailers are holding back on plastic packaged food orders, which has in turn led wholesalers to stop storing such stock which would fall over the non-biodegradable plastic packaging ban.
According to Rattan Agarwal, a wholesale merchant: “Due to shortage, the sale of junk food has dropped by nearly 40% in Shimla (capital city of Himachal Pradesh) alone.”
“Earlier we got relief from the high court. But now the risk to keep big stocks is too high,” said Bablu Gupta, a retailer in Sanjauli Bazar.
Many residents in Himachal Pradesh are also concerned over how many of the MNC brand owners with production facilities in the state – including Cadbury’s Nestle, Pepsi, Hindustan Lever and Cremica – would respond to the ban, if it does pass.
Alternative packaging that complies with the ban
Even as many food companies continue to fight against having to change their food packaging from non-biodegradable plastic to a biodegradable format, one small company in Himachal Pradesh has introduced biodegradable packaging packaging for potato chips and other snack foods.
In late-January, GCL, formerly known as the Gopal Group, launched the packaging, which is made of corn starch and paper, and gives packaged food products a shelf life of three to four months.
“We are committed to act responsibly and device innovative business solutions to reduce environmental impacts and deliver products and services that help to build a sustainable future,” said GCL managing director Apoorv Gupta.
Although the new packaging costs 50% more than conventional non-biodegradable plastic packaging, Gupta expressed confidence and explained, “Caring for he environment is everyone’s responsibility and it does have a cost to it.
“In a year we target to corer about 2% of the market in Himachal Pradesh, an hope to achieve a sales turnover of Rs 1 crore.”
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