Drishtikon: Ban on Single-Use Plastic and Eco-Ableism

The Sangyan
9 min readJan 22, 2023

This blog discusses the official notification banning single-use plastic, an introduction to the eco-ableism, a case study on the moral dilemma between ‘Green Menstruation’ and ‘Period Poverty’, and a snapshot of ‘Survey on Ban of Single-Use Plastic and Eco-Ableism’ before concluding this piece.

Single-Use Plastic Ban

India banned the manufacturing, import, stocking, distribution, sale, and use of identified single-use plastic items, from 01st July 2022, which have low utility and high littering potential, all across the country.[1] In its press release on Press Information Bureau, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, while banning the selected single-use plastic, stated further:

“The adverse impacts of littered single use plastic items plastic on both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, including in marine environment are globally recognized. Addressing pollution due to single use plastic items has become an important environmental challenge confronting all countries.”

“In the 4th United Nations Environment Assembly held in 2019, India had piloted a resolution on addressing single-use plastic products pollution, recognizing the urgent need for the global community to focus on this very important issue. The adoption of this resolution at UNEA 4 was a significant step. In the recently concluded 5th session of United Nations Environment Assembly in March 2022, India engaged constructively with all member states to develop consensus on the resolution for driving global action on plastic pollution.”

“The Government of India has taken resolute steps for mitigation of pollution caused by littered Single Use Plastics. The list of banned items includes -ear buds with plastic sticks, plastic sticks for balloons, plastic flags, candy sticks, ice- cream sticks, polystyrene (Thermocol) for decoration, plastic plates, cups, glasses, cutlery such as forks, spoons, knives, straw, trays, wrapping or packing films around sweet boxes, invitation cards, cigarette packets, plastic or PVC banners less than 100 micron, stirrers.”

“The Plastic Waste Management Amendment Rules, 2021, also prohibit manufacture, import, stocking, distribution, sale and use of plastic carry bags having thickness less than seventy five microns with effect from 30th September, 2021, and having thickness less than thickness of one hundred and twenty microns with effect from the 31st December, 2022.”

“The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has also notified the Guidelines on Extended Producers Responsibility on plastic packaging as Plastic Waste Management Amendment Rules, 2022 on 16th February, 2022. Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is responsibility of a producer for the environmentally sound management of the product until the end of its life. The Guidelines will provide framework to strengthen circular economy of plastic packaging waste, promote development of new alternatives to plastic packaging and provide next steps for moving towards sustainable plastic packaging by businesses.”

The Central Pollution Control Board of India, a statutory organisation under the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, also launched the ‘CPCB Grievance Redressal App’ to empower citizens to help curb the plastic menace.

Eco-Ableism

Against that backdrop, this blog will talk about the concept of “Eco-Ableism” and how eco-friendly measures that are largely good for the greater population (utilitarianism) often come with certain negative externalities. And before we discuss and explain what eco-ableism means and how it connects with the ban on single-use plastics and such other pro-planet measures, let’s first understand what ‘Ableism’ means.

“Ableism is a set of beliefs or practices that devalue and discriminate against people with physical, intellectual, or psychiatric disabilities and often rests on the assumption that disabled people need to be ‘fixed’ in one form or the other. Ableism is intertwined in our culture, due to many limiting beliefs about what disability does or does not mean, how able-bodied people learn to treat people with disabilities and how we are often not included at the table for key decisions.”[2]

In that respect, “eco-ableism is ableism in the environmental movement and from environmental activists who fail to take disabled people into account. Eco-ableism is a form of discrimination toward individuals with disabilities through an ecological and environmental lens.”[3]

Illustration: A person with burgundy colored hair, wearing a green top and blue pants is sitting on a wheelchair, holding a white color board with blue text that says, “Nothing about us, without us” in all caps. There are symbols of a wheelchair user and an ear with a hearing aid on it. The person is facing a closed door that is greyish blue in color and has the twinkling stars in light blue. The door has a pale-yellow board hung on it that says “climate forum” in all caps, with text yellow in c
Illustration: A person with burgundy colored hair, wearing a green top and blue pants is sitting on a wheelchair, holding a white color board with blue text that says, “Nothing about us, without us” in all caps. There are symbols of a wheelchair user and an ear with a hearing aid on it. The person is facing a closed door that is greyish blue in color and has the twinkling stars in light blue. The door has a pale-yellow board hung on it that says “climate forum” in all caps, with text yellow in color. The wall around the door has bricks that are orange in color, followed by pastel green, yellow and brown colors. There is a blanket of green leaves that hangs from the top of the wall. A blue pot with an orange flowering plant sits beside the door and has a note in yellow with the text, “gone 4 lunch” in black and all caps. The ground is grey in color. The person on the wheelchair looks dejected at not being able to attend the climate forum. Source: Anna Maria Joseph, Cripping Climate Activism, Women Enabled International, Available at <https://medium.com/rewriting-the-narrative/cripping-climate-activism-fde1fc8871fc> Accessed on 20th January 2023.

Case Study: ‘Green Menstruation’ and ‘Period Poverty

Among persons with disabilities, girls and women with disabilities are particularly stigmatized, facing the double burden of being female and having a disability. Their rights, dignity, and autonomy are often disregarded and violated.

One critical case study in this respect would be the moral dilemma between ‘Green Menstruation’ and ‘Period Poverty’. In that respect, it is pertinent to know and understand that ‘Menstruation’ is the “process in which the uterus sheds blood and tissue through the vagina. This is a natural and healthy process for girls and women of reproductive age. In Western communities, this is often called “the period.” It typically lasts 2 to 5 days, but this varies by individual.”[4] While ‘Period poverty’ is described as the “struggle many low-income women and girls face while trying to afford menstrual products. The term also refers to the increased economic vulnerability women and girls face due to the financial burden posed by menstrual supplies. These include not only menstrual pads and tampons but also related costs such as pain medication and underwear.”[5]

Understanding this stark reality surrounding menstruation, there is a pressing need to take into account the environmental cost while we work ahead for menstruation health as a matter of human rights and basic dignity, especially for vulnerable communities including women with disabilities who are disproportionately impacted as period poverty have cascading and compounding impact on their health.[6]

“According to Menstrual Health Alliance India, one sanitary pad could take 500 to 800 years to decompose as the plastic used is non-biodegradable and can lead to health and environmental hazards. Considering 36 percent of menstruating females use sanitary napkins, their environmental footprint is high. Most of these pads have over 90 percent plastic, and each pad is equivalent to four plastic bags. Data on menstrual waste management from the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation (MDWS) shows that 28 percent of such pads are thrown with routine waste, 28 percent are thrown in the open, 33 percent are disposed of via burial, and 15 percent are burnt openly.”[7]

“The sanitary pads commonly used by women from all classes contain super-absorbent polymers (SAP), which don’t decompose. They gradually break down into what are known as micro plastics, which contaminate soil, water, and air. They also enter the food chain injecting toxins into the food humans and animals consume.”[8]

At present, not sure whether we even have any straight-jacketed answer to the question whether green menstruation is possible? but one thing for sure is that we cannot achieve global goals (sustainable development goals) in isolation. We have this moral dilemma of eradicating period poverty without damaging the environment (much like we have a moral obligation to eradicate poverty, but development often comes at a cost — the environment versus development conundrum)., it is important that, at first, we accept this as a concern and then follow up with that understanding with the government, private sector, and the larger civil society — which ultimately coming together to find innovative and sustainable solutions that not only help with eradicating period poverty but also reduce the environmental impact of sanitary pads in line with ethos of the sustainable development (meeting ‘the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’).

We cannot simply ban sanitary pads that have plastic or such harmful ingredients (as the more sustainable options are relatively very costly and not every woman can afford which will again marginalise historically backward and vulnerable communities, including women with disabilities and put them into the zone of period poverty) but then the negative externalities of plastic containing sanitary pads are huge as well.

Survey on Ban of Single-Use Plastic and Eco-Ableism

Hereafter, there is a snapshot of a short survey in this regard. This short survey was to gauge the awareness regarding the concept of ‘Eco-Ableism’ and gather evidence regarding the impact of the ban on single-use plastics on persons with disabilities, if any. Though the survey was widely circulated, it received very scarce responses, probably because of the lack of awareness and sensitisation about ‘disability-inclusive climate justice’.

The survey was carried out by Abhishek Kumar, an NCPEDP-Javed Abidi Fellow on Disability working on the “Impact of Climate Change on Persons with Disabilities”. These were the questions and responses received.

1. Are you a Person with Disability? 13 responses with 8 Yes (61.5%) and 5 No (38.5%)
1. Are you a Person with Disability? 13 responses with 8 Yes (61.5%) and 5 No (38.5%)
2. Are you aware of the Ban on certain Single-Use Plastic in India from 01st of July 2022? 13 responses with 12 Yes (92.3) and 1 No (7.7%).
2. Are you aware of the Ban on certain Single-Use Plastic in India from 01st of July 2022? 13 responses with 12 Yes (92.3) and 1 No (7.7%).
3. Are you aware of the concept “Eco-Ableism”? 13 responses with 4 Yes (30.8%), 8 No (61.5%), and 1 Maybe (7.7%).
3. Are you aware of the concept “Eco-Ableism”? 13 responses with 4 Yes (30.8%), 8 No (61.5%), and 1 Maybe (7.7%).
4. Do you have any experience of “Eco-Ableism”? 13 responses with 3 Yes (23.1%), 9 No (69.2%), and 1 Maybe (7.7%).
4. Do you have any experience of “Eco-Ableism”? 13 responses with 3 Yes (23.1%), 9 No (69.2%), and 1 Maybe (7.7%).
5. Do you know anyone who has experienced “Eco-Ableism”? 13 responses with 2 Yes (15.4%), 10 No (76.9%), and 1 Maybe (7.7%).
5. Do you know anyone who has experienced “Eco-Ableism”? 13 responses with 2 Yes (15.4%), 10 No (76.9%), and 1 Maybe (7.7%).

Certain respondents further shared the instances of “Eco-Ableism” experienced by them or anyone they know included:

1. “Climate and disaster-resilient infrastructure that is built is often not inclusive and universally accessible.”

2. “While having coconut water at stalls, due to the use of paper straws instead of the usual straws, I faced difficulty as the paper straw got wet, and couldn’t sip from it. My father is a person with Parkinson’s disease, always has tremors in hands that he cannot hold something to drink, Lack of straws/Spoons at the food courts/Juice shops has always been a difficult task for us.”

3. “I am coming across this term for the first time.”

4. “I am a wheelchair user and I most of the time experience Eco-Ableism in various public places, transport, and even in Government buildings. Beginning with my college wherein the complete environment was inaccessible and was very difficult for me to pursue my education. Most of the public places are made inaccessible due to no proper road systems, potholes, and broken pavements.”

Further, the respondents also added that “Few shifts to support environmental changes are making lives of many (not only persons with disabilities) difficult. Not everybody is capable of doing everything.” and “Plastics should be gradually banned. All types.”

To sum up, there is a need for disability-inclusive climate justice wherein the pro-planet measures pass on the touchstone of the principle of ‘leave no one behind’.

References

[1] Ban on identified Single Use Plastic Items from 1st July 2022, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Press Release, Press Information Bureau, Available at < https://pib.gov.in/PressReleasePage.aspx?PRID=1837518> Accessed on 19th January 2023.

[2] Leah Smith, #Ableism, Center for Disability Rights, Available at < https://cdrnys.org/blog/uncategorized/ableism/#:~:text=Ableism%20is%20a%20set%20of,one%20form%20or%20the%20other.> Accessed on 20th January 2023.

[3] Alexandra Aladham, Eco-Ableism in the Zero Waste Movement, Emory Sustainability Initiatives, Available at <https://sustainability.emory.edu/eco-ableism-in-the-zero-waste-movement/> Accessed on 20th January 2023.

[4] UNFPA, Menstruation and human rights — Frequently asked questions, United Nations Population Fund, Available at < https://www.unfpa.org/menstruationfaq> Accessed on 20th January 2023.

[5] UNFPA, Menstruation and human rights — Frequently asked questions, United Nations Population Fund, Available at < https://www.unfpa.org/menstruationfaq> Accessed on 20th January 2023.

[6] Menstrual Health & Hygiene for Girls and Women with Disabilities, Guidance Note, UNICEF, Available at <https://www.unicef.org/media/98881/file/MHH-Disabilities-Guidance-Note-ENG.pdf> Accessed on 20th January 2023; UN Secretary-General report on the “Situation of women and girls with disabilities and the Status of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Optional Protocol thereto,” September 2017, Available at <https://www.un.org/ development/desa/disabilities/news/dspd/women-and-girlswith-disabilities-crpd.html> Accessed on 20th January 2023; UNICEF (2019) Guidance on Menstrual Health and Hygiene. New York, USA: UNICEF; UNICEF (2020) Guidance on Monitoring Menstrual Health and Hygiene. New York, USA: UNICEF; and Columbia University (2020) Webinar — Period Posse Presents: Ensuring Accessibility, Addressing the menstrual needs of people with disabilities.

[7] Swati Singh Sambyal, Sonia Henam, and Fiola Tariang, Is green menstruation possible?, Down To Earth, 29th May 2019, Available at < https://www.downtoearth.org.in/blog/waste/is-green-menstruation-possible--64796> Accessed on 20th January 2023.

[8] Arvind Mayaram, A case for environment-friendly sanitary pads, Hindustan Times, 30th March 2021, Available at <https://www.hindustantimes.com/opinion/a-case-for-environment-friendly-sanitary-pads-101617113330182.html> Accessed on 20th January 2023.

About the Author

Abhishek Kumar, NCPEDP-Javed Abidi Fellow on Disability and the ideator, curator and founder of The Sangyan.
The author can be reached at abhishek.ncpedp@gmail.com

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The Sangyan

Law. Environment. Disability | Curator ~ Adv. Abhishek Kumar | Working on the 'Impact of Climate Change on Persons with Disabilities' | thesangyan.in | 🇮🇳 |