Ratna Samphel Fabric and Paper Unit at the Startup Centre, Changzamtog has remained idle since April after the National Environment Commission stopped it from producing non-woven fabric bags.

Reasoning that non-woven fabric bag is included in the reinforcement of plastic ban notification 1999, which come into force in April this year, the license of the company, which was issued in 2017, was revoked and the manufacturing unit shut down.

However, the owner of the manufacturing unit, Geeta Rai is dissatisfied that their appeal to reconsider cancelling their license did not come through.

She claimed that the business was in operation because they had an environment clearance from the NEC to operate it.

“I understand the NEC’s initiative on the ban but why did they not remind us about the ban before issuing us the clearance,” she said. “I am running into loss and I have to repay a loan of Nu 10.1 million and pay the employees.”

Claiming it is biodegradable, she said, that they had earlier produced almost 30,000 bags that were distributed to the schools and markets. The unit used to produce about a ton of non-woven fabric bag a day.

Geeta has appealed to the relevant stakeholders and NEC. “The ban had never been successful and they could have researched before issuing the clearance. Now we’re at a loss for their ignorance in issuing the clearance,” she said. “ Also, similar products are widely used in the market today.”

She had also requested the bank for loan deferment or suspension for a year so that she could take up other work to repay the loan. She is also one of the private sector lending beneficiaries.

“I put in everything to put up this unit thinking we could substitute the plastic once the ban comes in and it was approved as well,” she said.

Another reason for shutting down the unit was on the ground that the project location and ownership was changed without the approval from NEC. Geeta agrees that they were using the Startup Centre temporarily for two years and that the unit was earlier located in Babesa.

An official from NEC said the non-woven fabric bags are not biodegradable.

The official said that non-woven fabric is compressed plastic made into a bag, which means the bags get disintegrated and disappear into the environment, which makes it more harmful because of the chemicals used.

“We’ve also sent out a notification on the ban on non-woven fabric bags and that it contains plastic although we haven’t strongly monitored the implementation,” the official said. “The ban is, however, on and we’re fine tuning it to implement it gradually.”

He said when the reinforcement first came in, many had sought NEC’s approval on non-woven fabric biodegradable bags while several wanted to import the bags. NEC, he said, later found that it contained plastic but by then, non-woven fabric bags had already hit the market.

“In 2017, when people were encouraged to take up startups and entrepreneurship, this proposal to set up the non-woven fabric bag unit slipped through NEC and they were issued the environment clearance,” the official said. “Then the reinforcement came in and now it is implemented with the notification that non-woven fabric bags are plastic.”

Meanwhile, Geeta and her husband are today making paper bags and cloth carry bags, which is not helping them to repay the loan. “We don’t even know how is our product a plastic when everyone is using this bag as an alternative to plastic.”

Yangchen C Rinzin