Kathmandu bans plastic bags

Nepal’s government banned the use of plastic bags in its capital city, Kathmandu, last week to mark the Nepali New Year.

The move aims to address the growing problem of plastic and polystyrene waste in the burgeoning city.  Though there are no official estimates, campaign groups claim the city uses 5 million plastic bags every day.

Businesses and manufacturers were quick to oppose the move. Nepal’s Plastic Manufacturers Association condemned the decision: “This is an ad hoc decision and we are not going to shut down our factories or our workers will lose jobs. We challenge the government to close our factories it if it has power to do so,” said Sharad Sharma, president of the association.

Earlier this week, Nepal’s Supreme Court rejected an appeal from the plastic association to halt the ban.

Government officials point out that only plastic bags thinner than 40 microns—mostly used for disposable shopping bags —have been banned.

Other countries have similar bans “so there is no need to make a hullaballoo”, said Mahendra Bahadur Gurung, joint secretary at the Environment Ministry. “The government will strictly monitor and assure its implementation,” he said.

But even some lawmakers doubt the ban can be achieved. “It’s easy to take decisions however its implementation is not easy,” said Rabindra Adhikari, president of the Parliamentary Committee on Development.

Kathmandu banned the use of plastics two year ago, but withdrew its decision within less than a month due to pressure from plastic manufacturing companies.

In 2011, the Ministry of Environment  imposed fines of Rs 500-50,000($5-500) on manufacturers producing bags thinner than 20 microns, which many people say hasn’t been implemented.

Others have welcomed the decision. Bharat Basnet, owner of Kantipur Temple, a plastic-free hotel in Kathmandu, has been an advocate for the ban. “There are alternatives to plastic, the only thing we need is commitment,” he said.

Environmental activism is gaining momentum in the city suffering from severe pollution and poor waste management systems.

Plastic clogs up rivers

Earlier this week thousands of people gathered by the holy Bagmati River — which flows through the heart of Kathmandu — to celebrate the 100th week of a government-led clean-up campaign.  Hundreds of volunteers have removed about 2,000 tonnes of solid waste from the river since the beginning of this campaign.

“We have done too much to the environment and now it’s the time to change our behavior, so clean up should be done at any cost,” said Leelmani Paudyal, chief secretary of the Nepal government and leader of the campaign. Many people believe Paudyal is the man behind the decision to ban the use of plastic bags.

Kathmandu is not the only Himalayan region to ban plastic. Yunnan became China’s first province to implement a ban on the production and use of plastic bags back in 2009.

Bhutan banned plastic in 1999, though the country is still struggling with enforcement, particularly in the capital Thimphu.

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