With just a day left for the reinforcement of the nationwide plastic ban, Tsirang shopkeepers say they need an alternative.

The dzongkhag administration has banned plastic usage on Sunday markets since last year.

A shop owner, Lhamo, said customers do not bring carry bags and expect them to provide plastic bags. “Customers get angry and leave the products when we tell them there are no bags.”

She said she tried using cotton and cloth bags. “It is useful to an extent but it cannot hold heavy products. The bag is not as strong as plastic.”

At home, she makes gunny bags from newspapers, which could be one of the alternatives. “However, it also has a limitation.”

Shopkeepers shared that butter and cheese need to be wrapped in plastic, as the products rot easily.

A Damphu resident, Dorji, said there was no sustainable practice, which would help prevent the use of plastic bags. “There have to be sustainable measures in place before such a ban. Doing away with plastic may not be effective if there are no alternatives.”

While most shopkeepers do not provide plastic bags, many face the dilemma, as they lose customers.

A vegetable vendor, Wangmo, said it affected her business. “When plastic carry bags aren’t provided, people complain and leave the produce saying others provided it.

Even with jute bags at the shop, people don’t want to pay extra for it,” she said.

The dzongkhag’s senior environment officer, Dorji Wangdi, said alternatives to plastic bags and wrappers were also sought. “While there are many plans and programmes to be initiated, the budget limitation is one of the challenges in the implementation part.”

“Awareness programmes were conducted across the dzongkhag including the gewogs,” he said.

Tsirang already has a system where plastic and dry waste is collected in collection centres after monthly cleaning campaigns.

Police and road safety officials have also helped advocate the plastic ban during routine inspection along the highway to remind people.

Dorji Wangdi said the vegetable market was especially focused and advocacy conducted. “We tell them to reuse plastic but that products like zaw be bought in a sack and then sold in kilograms to people without plastic bags.”

He said there were plans to train women groups to make use of waste, especially plastic. “There are also plans to provide biodegradable carry bags, wrappers and paper bags, wherein a subsidy would be provided to an entity.”

Rinchen Zangmo | Tsirang