Mumbai: After Maharashtra enforced restrictions on single-use plastic items this month, organized retailers are mulling ways of going a step beyond—rolling out a zero-plastic policy in their stores across India.

Retailers such as Gurugram-based Grofers India, Godrej Nature’s Basket (GNB) and Avenue Supermarts Ltd, which operates the D-Mart chain, are pre-empting deep repercussions from the ban by moving towards alternatives and doing it swiftly.

“By the end of April, we will be a zero-plastic organization across all our locations. We have already completed 60-70% (of the transition)," said Albinder Dhindsa, co-founder and chief executive of Grofers, over the phone.

Karnataka and Maharashtra account for close to 70% of D-Mart’s operations, and with these states enforcing the plastic ban, India’s largest listed supermarket chain has also become plastic-free at 70% of its operations. “We are mulling going plastic-free across all our retail stores. However, we are facing constraints on supply," said chief executive and managing director Neville Noronha.

At Godrej Nature’s Basket, which has 29 stores across three cities, the switchover started last year in Bengaluru as Karnataka had implemented the plastic ban prior to Maharashtra. “We were anyway planning to go ahead with no plastic across our stores and were in talks with our partners and vendors to come on board," said CEO Avni Davda.

Already, major stores like Future Group’s Foodhall and smaller local grocery shops have started offering cloth bags to customers, costing Rs20-110, while battling to keep up with the sudden rise in demand. Godrej Nature’s Basket now uses a mix of cloth and paper bags instead of plastic.

The experience and the impact of going plastic-free is different for Grofers and D-Mart. At Grofers, as the company does the last-mile delivery, the move from plastic and even cartons to reusable crates has reduced the packaging cost per order from Rs15-18 to Rs2-3. This includes brown paper bags, tape and bubble wrap on some glass items, said Dhindsa.

At D-Mart, the cost of providing biodegradable “plastic" in the fresh supplies section has increased threefold, which the firm is currently absorbing. Meanwhile, in the billing section, they offer consumers the choice of buying cloth bags at Rs15-20, on which D-Mart is probably losing some money, said Noronha.

However, overall consumption of plastic has fallen 88% over the last three-four years since the time the retailer started charging for plastic bags. “Over half our consumers carry their own bags, and as we have stopped selling plastic bags—even this has further halved," added Noronha.

The cloth bags at Godrej Nature’s Basket are reusable and come at a charge, Davda said, adding that additional expenses such as higher cost of paper bags are being absorbed by the company.

In the unorganized sector too, shoppers and shopkeepers are adapting. In the vegetable market opposite Mumbai’s Grant Road station, conveniently named Bhaji Gali, bundles of cloth bags can be seen hanging from several stores. Shopkeepers say they encourage customers to buy these bags—sold for Rs20, subject to bargains—in case they don’t have their own.

The state issued the Maharashtra Plastic and Thermocol Products (Manufacture, Usage, Sale, Transport, Handling and Storage) Notification, 2018, on 23 March, banning the manufacture, use, storage, sale and import of most kinds of plastic items, including bags. This notification has already been challenged by, among others, the Maharashtra Plastics Manufacturing Association, citing loss of jobs and revenue.

“We need to find solutions and the industry has to be given time to make the change," said Piruz Khambatta, chairman of the Confederation of Indian Industry Western Region and chairman and managing director of Rasna Pvt. Ltd.

But business needs to go on for the others. “We prepared for the switchover in a similar manner to how we prepare for the festive season. However, the end objective was different this time," said Davda.

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