Plastic is banned in India

When something survives without being thrown away, economists call it sustainable. It sounded like a not only sustainable, but also extremely courageous project, which India's government had drafted: It wanted to enforce a far-reaching ban on single-use plastic in the huge country; one that should shine in the world in an exemplary manner. Delhi had chosen a symbolic date for this. The ban was to come into force on October 2, just in time for Mahatma Gandhi's 150th birthday. That seemed to fit because the freedom icon is also considered a valiant champion against waste. But things turned out differently. Delhi overturned plans at the last minute.

The government felt the pressure of the industry association, producers protested and bored into a wound. They warned of losing more jobs, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi can hardly afford when his job record is already so depressing. A million Indians enter the labor market every month and Delhi is finding no way to kickstart the crippling economy.

The Indian example highlights the high hurdles that have to be overcome in the ecological restructuring of the system. Delhi's emergency brake is symptomatic of troubles that are showing up around the world. Western industrial nations are not excluded, you just have to look to Berlin to see how the once great promises of the energy transition have shrunk.

The failure is embarrassing for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, especially since he always turns the big wheel rhetorically. It was no different with plastic. India wants to shine on the global stage, now the defeat is scratching its credibility. There is a certain irony in that. Because India is advancing far more research than other countries when it comes to developing renewable energies. The country is on course to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. As an ally of global climate policy, India remains a key partner.

When it comes to plastic, Delhi must now learn from the debacle. Ecologists had long since warned against hastily pushing through such massive changes from above, which affect everyday life everywhere. "That can't work," says waste specialist Chandra Bushan from the Center for Science and Environment. It is now being considered to proceed in phases in order to gradually ban single-use products such as bags, straws, cutlery and bottles. "Such an approach would be much more effective," says Bushan. It gives the industry opportunities to change course. And the state can better take people away. After all, the railways and the state airline Air India want to do without single-use plastic in the future. In India there are around 15 million kilograms of plastic waste per day, or around eleven kilograms per inhabitant per year, while the global average is 28 kilograms per capita per year, according to the Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.