Impending ban on PET bottles can have a grave impact on Maharashtra’s thriving fruit industry

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The recent policy decision banning single-use plastics and a looming ban on PET bottles after a 3-month window, has left Maharashtra’s fruit industry jittery.

The state is bestowed with varied agro-climatic zones, which are highly favourable to grow wide variety of fruit crops. As per National Horticulture Board data, Maharashtra stands second in the country with fruit production of 103.96 lakh metric tonnes.

Maharashtra is a leading producer of Oranges (40%), Grapes (50%), Mangoes, Strawberries and Guavas, accounting for 14.5 percent share in the country’s fruit production. Additionally, Maharashtra is the largest exporter of Grapes, Mangoes, and 97% of India’s total Grape wine produce comes from the state. The industry has already voiced its dissent and the challenges which the ban has posed.

“The plastic ban has put the grapes industry in complete distress. We are facing challenges even at the nurseries, where plastic is used to securely keep the saplings. Now, suddenly, we have been forced to seek alternatives that too without any support. The implementation of the ban should have had a longer deadline, for us to prepare in advance. Further, if PET bottles are also banned, the end-product would be impacted – grape juice and wines are all mostly sold in PET bottles. What we need is to invest in research to seek viable recycling mechanisms, instead of blanket banning plastics,” said Mr. Sopan Kanchan, President, Grape Grower Association of India, Pune.

In the middle of peaking summers, a ban on PET bottles will impact a major segment of fruit-based consumer goods – specifically cold beverages like juices, squash, pulp, puree. In case the authorities decide to ban PET bottles after the 3-month window, consumers, fruit growers and suppliers will end up suffering in this heat.

The ban will not only have an adverse impact on fruit farmers but also on several FMCG companies, leading to a huge downfall in the economy especially in the fruit belts of Maharashtra like Ratnagiri, Nagpur, Nashik, Solapur, Pune, Amravati, Sangli, Satara, Jalna, Latur, Sindhudurg and Raigad.

“Citrus – including the Nagpur mandarin and sweet lime – accounts for more than 60 percent of the fruit-based beverages market in India. Most of the popular citrus-beverage FMCG brands use PET bottles for packaging. In case the authorities decide to enforce a ban on PET bottles, it will have a significant business impact on the entire industry. The approach should be to involve all stakeholders – growers/farmers, scientific community and the industry – and deliberate upon a possible implementation strategy,” said Mr. Amol Totey, President, Orange Grower Association of India, Amravati.

If the authorities are considering glass bottles as a substitute for PET bottles, they should be willing to address the multiple new challenges it entails, that defeat the purpose of conserving the environment. According to Dr. R.N. Jagtap, Head of Department, Surface Engineering and Polymer Science, Institute of Chemical Technology, “Glass bottles can’t be considered as a viable substitute of PET bottles since it can never be a healthy and beneficial solution. Glass is overtly expensive, inflated and difficult to transport because of its heavy weight. Also, Tetrapak cannot be considered as a viable alternative since the multiple layers of aluminium, paper, PET do not allow the proper recycling of tetrapak. This increases in larger accumulation of waste thus consuming landfills.”

While the authorities’ intent of safeguarding the environment is applaudable, there is a need for various stakeholders to come together and deliberate upon alternative packaging solutions. The government needs to sit together with growers, scientists and trade/industry to create a clear implementation roadmap, so that the entire value chain, including the consumers, don’t suffer.