Plastic May Replace Jute as the Packaging Material for Food Grains

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There is a rising concern regarding the demand and supply of jute bags for packing food grains. Due to this, plastic could replace jute as the packaging material for food grains owing to “better pricing” of the material. Although this may seem like a beneficial undertaking from a cost perspective, it is definitely not good for the environment because such massive quantities of plastic waste hardly gets recycled or reused. Only 5% can be expected to be recycled and that too when the concerned entities take care to handle the packaging material accordingly.
As per the current scenario, there is a clear dearth of the required quantity of jute bags (14.1 lakh bales) for food grains and their pricing is also a bit on the higher side. The rise in demand that has been estimated for the jute bags will not be met if current stats are to be considered. Thus, the center has no other option than to consider plastic bags as a cost effective and readily available packaging material for food grains.

Until now, jute mills have managed to supply the quantum of bags required for packing wheat to Food Corporation of India and the State procurement agencies in Punjab, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh for the 2016-17 rabi crop season. However, the Center believes that the demand in the coming months cannot be met at the current price and production rate.

The Food Ministry in a recent note said for “the current rabi (2016-17) season, the jute industry expressed its ability to supply 2 lakh bales a month against the total requirement of 13.43 lakh bales packing materials during December 2015 to April 2016.” Considering this, the Centre has used 4.96 lakh bales of HDPE/PP bags. From January to April, the two union ministries have extended the exemption from 10% (in November and December, 2015) to 30% this year.

The Union Ministry of Environment and Forests has given jute industry an ‘orange category’ status indicating the second highest level of polluters, while plastics industry has been accorded a ‘green category’, second most clean status. Now this will come as a surprise to all as the categorization of plastic as a green or eco-friendly material is obviously incorrect. Not only does this jeopardize the health of the environment, but also indicates the extent to which the Center is willing to go to satiate it’ business needs.

With the availability of packaging material suppliers online in India, the center could consider other viable and cost effective options that are green. At a time when plastic pollution seems to be at alarming levels, it makes no sense whatsoever to incorporate plastic packaging for packing food grains. Just consider the sheer quantity of packaging materials that will be required and it should give you a pretty clear estimate of the harm that will be inflicted on the environment. The Center needs to find alternative options because a temporary cost advantage such as the one involving plastic bags for food grains might lead to permanent damage.

The most important question that should be considered right now is, “Are plastic bags the ultimate cost effective solution for meeting the demands for packaging material on a large scale?

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