The last few days have not been usual in Phuentsholing town for shopkeepers and thromde’s environment team.

It is because of the plastic carry bags.

In line with the plastic ban reinforced from April 1, the thromde’s environment team penalised shopkeepers in possession of plastic carry bags and collected about Nu 67,000 in the last two days.

Considering the first-time penalty amount of Nu 500, more than 130 business establishments were penalised.

The move has not been received well.

Businessmen affected said the environment inspectors also penalised them for possessing old plastic carry bags inside their shops.

Shopkeepers argued that they haven’t sold goods in the carry bags. Some paid the fines. Some did not.

Yesterday morning, a group of shopkeepers were having a conversation with an inspection staff from thromde. None looked happy.

A handicraft owner, Pema Yangzom, was asked to pay for a small black plastic carry bag. She refused.

“The plastic has rice inside,” she said. “It is a handicraft shop and this plastic was inside the refrigerator.”

Another shopkeeper said she was asked to pay Nu 500 for keeping white non-woven bags. She also did not pay.

“We bought these bags because they said plastic carry bags were not allowed,” she said, adding that the non-woven bags were also allowed from the gate. “We don’t know which one to use and which not to use. They are confusing us.”

The shopkeeper said she knew about the ban and had bought the non-woven bags.

She said that the public should be given a sample of the type of carrying bag that is usable. “A proper solution or replacement has to be done before such rules come in.”

Most shopkeepers said they are not against the ban and that it was a good initiative.

However, many say officials should not just penalise for a small and old plastic that is used for a personal purpose, even if it is inside the shop.

Some businessmen said the implementers themselves were not aware whether to penalise or not, pointing that they were just making people more confused.

Many shopkeepers said the approach was also wrong, explaining that the inspectors entered the shop counters, while some entered restaurant kitchens in search of old plastics.

Thromde’s environment officials said they penalised as per the notice of the national environment commission.

It was learnt that there were no clear instructions on whether to penalise business establishments for the old carry bags.

Phuentsholing thromde also attempted to sensitise on the plastic ban in March by deploying staff at the entry gates.

Thromde has collected 4.68 metric tons (MT) of plastic from the two entry gates. Vehicles were also checked at the second gate but the thromde had to do away with the monitoring after people got confused and complained.

Senior environment officer with thromde, Lhendup, said the bigger challenge today was controlling the entry of plastic at the gates.

“People still try to bring in plastic carry bags,” he said, adding that there are also people who wrapped what they bought in plastic and tried to bring into Bhutan.

Lhendup said allowing people to reuse and carry their plastic bag would also confuse people and make this ban difficult. “People would buy plastic from Jaigaon and try to reuse.”

Thromde officials also said that even people across the border asked their customers about the plastic ban in Bhutan and handed the purchased items in degradable carry bags.

Meanwhile, many in Phuentsholing have differing views.A businessman said the move is good and it should be continued.

“If they stopped imposing a penalty, people will be complacent, and Bhutanese are known for complacency.”

  Rajesh Rai  | Phuentsholing