Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

Customs officials have confiscated about 1,500kg of plastics at the mini dry port (MDP) in Phuentsholing on seven different occasions this year.

Sources say the plastics were hidden inside vegetable bags.

Sources also allege huge quantities of plastics could have entered the country illegally since the pandemic started last year, as physical verification at the MDP was minimised considering the initial Covid-19 transmission risks.

In 2019, custom officials confiscated more than 1,500kg of plastics.

Plastics were seized after the National Environment Commission Secretariat (NECS) reinforced the ban on the use and sale of plastic carry bags and pouches in April 2019 when monitoring became stringent.  Even shopkeepers in Jaigaon knew of the measures and would provide their Bhutanese customers non-woven carry bags.

But today, almost every shop in Phuentsholing, big or small, uses plastic carry bags and sales of the products are also rampant.

A shopkeeper said, although plastics use and sale was banned, the result had not changed. “We aren’t allowed to import but it’s available within the town for sale.”

He said the ban is just on the paper. “The ban only increased the price of plastics.”

The shopkeeper said if plastic use was really banned, there must be one alternative in place, which was missing right now. “Without any other options or alternatives to plastics, even if it’s banned, shopkeepers face difficulty.”

He asked what they should use if plastic is not allowed? “Although the ban is a measure that will help our country, and while we have high regards for that, such measures shouldn’t affect people.” 

Meanwhile, plastic use was first banned in April 20, 1999.  The trade ministry had then banned the use and sale of plastic carry bags, doma wrappers and homemade ice cream (pepsi) pouches.  After decades of notifications and diligent efforts by the relevant agencies, the implementation of the ban still remained a challenge.  Towards the end of 2018, NECS consulted with relevant agencies and decided to reinforce the ban, which came into effect on April 1, 2019.