Plastic ban had hit the country’s biggest commercial town of Phuentsholing quite unexpectedly and hard last month. More than 100 business entities were penalised. Disgruntled, some took to social media to voice out their anguish.

However, that one imposition in the first week of April has brought about a result many had not expected, given the town’s proximity with neighbouring border town of Jaigaon.

In Phuentsholing, vegetable vendors are now using degradable non-woven bags. Shops are using paper to wrap doma.

But it is the business entities, small or large, from across the border that are using non-woven bags for their Bhutanese customers.

In Baubazaar, a vegetable vendor would ask his customer if he or she would go to Bhutan. A customer headed to Bhutan would get a non-woven carry bag.

“However, we also hear that this non-woven carry bag would be soon banned in Bhutan,” a vegetable vendor said.

Owner of My Clothes shop at Mukharjee Centre in Jaigaon, Rajen Kumar Shah claims his carry bags are better than others.

“I give clothes in these bags but it can also be used to carry other things,” he said. “Unlike the ordinary non-woven bags, which is mostly of plastic, the one I use is environment friendly.”

Rajen Kumar Shah said that ban in Bhutan has even helped Jaigaon. Use of plastic has decreased in Jaigaon as well, he added.

“The best, however, would be to use paper bags both in Jaigaon and Bhutan,” he said, adding that he is planning to go paper in another three months’ time.

Gupta Electronics’ owner Ashok Gupta said the ban in Bhutan has benefitted Jaigaon.

“Plastic is actually banned in Jaigaon as well,” he said, adding that the ban in Bhutan has helped push the ban there.

Ashok Gupta said he heard that non-woven carry bags would also be banned in Bhutan and paper carry bags introduced.

In Phuentsholing, shopkeepers are now used to using non-woven. Doma sellers, however, are not happy.

“Even vegetable vendors are allowed to keep their produce inside a plastic,” one shopkeeper said. “It would be good if plastic is allowed to wrap doma.”

The shopkeeper said that A4 papers, which she tried once, is too expensive and cannot resist water. Newspapers from across the border are dirty, she said. “Domas are drying out so fast.”

An official from Phuentsholing thromde, Jamtsho Drukpa said they have been inspecting in the town.

“In the recent inspection, we didn’t find plastic,” he said.

Jamtsho Drukpa also said that waste is dumped wrapped in degradable plastics unlike in the past when garbage was dumped in black plastic bags.

“We will again conduct surprise checkings and penalise those using plastic,” he said.

Plastic ban was first implemented 20 years ago in 1999. On January 14 this year, the National Environment Commission issued a notification that the ban would get reinforced starting April 1. The ban is specifically targeted on plastic carry bags, doma wrappers, and ice cream pouches.

Prior to ban was imposed, Phuentsholing thromde also sensitised throughout March by deploying staff at the entry gates to stop plastic from entering through the gates. Thromde collected 4.68 metric tons (MT) of plastic from the two entry gates.

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing