Consumer activists have questioned the rationale behind the use of tonnes of extremely thin plastic gloves during the April 6 voting for the Assembly election. They said that though the use of plastics less than 50 micron for medical purposes is not banned, this is still an abuse of the ban on plastics implemented in the State.
“It took us a year to come even close to bringing some discipline. The government forced some 140 units making single-use plastic bags to close down. They made people buy cloth bags and use them. Big shops, too, converted after much persuasion. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, all that went down the drain. And the election happened and all that the government could think of was single-use plastic gloves. They could have provided us with sticks or something wooden. After all, the number [of voters] is really huge — six crore,” said consumer activist T. Sadagopan.
S. Saroja, of the Citizen Consumer and Civic Action Group, said that though the Election Commission of India was concerned about public safety, it could have thought it out better. “They checked temperature and provided sanitisers when voters entered the booths. Similarly, they could have given sanitisers when voters finished voting. The advice that they have been giving us is to wash our hands or sanitise. The collected stuff is either going to be sent to the landfill or incinerated, both of which are not environment- friendly.”
Sources in the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board said there is no ban on single-use plastics for medical purposes but their proper disposal is the responsibility of the local bodies.
Despite several attempts, this reporter could not reach official sources in the Greater Chennai Corporation or in the ECI. However, officials in different local bodies said the ECI had provided yellow-coloured bags for the gloves to be packed and disposed of through incineration. “We did the same for the PPE kits used when COVID-19 patients came,” said an official.
V.G. Sivaramakrishnan, of Iyyapanthangal, was among the voters who was worried about plastic gloves strewn about at many booths. “In many places, people carried the gloves and threw them on the road after using them. I saw people doing that. In our household, we use as few plastics as possible. Seeing the way plastic gloves were treated yesterday [on Tuesday], I felt all our efforts to change the system at home has been a waste,” he said.
A former official of the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board felt that the Board should have ensured that all the waste was properly incinerated.