RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
India's largest city has banned plastic bags and packaging. In India, people actually produce only a tenth of the plastic waste that Americans do. The problem is where it ends up, as NPR's Lauren Frayer reports from Mumbai.
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LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: I'm trying to go for a morning jog on my local beach in Mumbai. It's dawn. There's a little bit of a drizzle. But I've got to literally clear a path through ankle-deep plastic trash, and the problem is particularly bad in the monsoon season right now.
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AFROZ SHAH: See, because monsoon, the waves and the tides are on the higher side, lot of water enters into the creek, and these creeks are full of plastic.
FRAYER: Afroz Shah is a lawyer who got sick of watching floodwaters from Mumbai's creeks flush trash out into the ocean and then up onto his local beach, so he launched a cleanup campaign on Facebook and Twitter. Today, there are about 50 volunteers here.
What are you finding here?
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: All plastic - plastic pouches. That's...
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: We find shoes laying around.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Packagings - that's what we're finding the most.
FRAYER: As volunteers pick up trash, authorities are going to the source. The Indian state of Maharashtra has banned plastic packaging - bags, Styrofoam, takeout containers, even cutlery. The goal is for all of India to do the same by 2022. Plastic waste is a public health issue, says activist Vandana Trivedi, a mother of two who lives near one of Asia's biggest garbage dumps here in Mumbai. It's the size of 200 football fields, and it sometimes catches fire.
VANDANA TRIVEDI: It's a very faint - you need to have a nose to pick up polluted air, and I think I've developed it now. It's, like, full of methane there. When...
FRAYER: Yeah. When plastic burns, it emits all sort of...
TRIVEDI: It's carcinogenic.
FRAYER: India does recycle, but informally. The poorest of the poor sort trash by hand literally on the dump pile. Life expectancy there is 39. Trivedi says this plastic ban is great PR for India, but...
TRIVEDI: Where is the education around the whole thing, right? People are clueless as to what is banned, what is to - not banned.
FRAYER: Nevertheless, stores are scrambling to comply or face fines of $70 and up and jail time for repeat offenders. Dry cleaner Sunil Srivastava covers freshly pressed shirts in sheer plastic.
SUNIL SRIVASTAVA: Yeah, it's all plastic. But we...
FRAYER: But he now has to remove it before delivering to customers.
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FRAYER: So you will put this paper on the clothes now.
SRIVASTAVA: Yeah, this paper.
FRAYER: But the paper costs him more, and it falls apart in the rain. A few doors down, Chiman Singh used to sell milk and yogurt in plastic bags.
CHIMAN SINGH: Yeah, milk...
FRAYER: This is the milk in these big metal barrels.
SINGH: Yogurt and milk.
FRAYER: Yogurt and milk. So I have to bring my own container.
FRAYER: He says he's lost about half of his customers. Stuffing a cloth bag in your purse is one thing, but who wants to carry around an empty milk bottle? At a fruit and veg stand, Sheru Mann fills her cloth bag and wonders if a country as large and as poor as India can pull this off.
SHERU MANN: There is 1.2 billion people living in India. How can you change the system?
FRAYER: I guess they're trying to start with this ban, right?
MANN: Hope so. Hope so. Hope so.
FRAYER: Lauren Frayer, NPR News, Mumbai.
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