Survey conducted by The Softcopy’ shows that nine out of ten consumers in Bengaluru are against paying a price for the eco-friendly carry bags that are provided by the retail marts.
After standing in a zigzag queue for hours at a retail mart in Vijayanagar, eagerly waiting for her turn, when Seema finally got to the billing counter, she realised that she forgot to bring a carry bag with her.
Figuring that out, the person sitting on the billing counter asked if she needed a carry bag, to which she replied positively. She was stunned by the bill that included a price for ‘cloth cotton carry bag’.
“As it was an unplanned shopping, I forgot to take my carry bag for which Ihave to shell out Rs 16 at the mart. It’s unfair. The retail marts make so much money on a daily basis, they shouldn’t be charging a fee for a recyclable carry bags,” said Seema, a social science teacher.
In a bid to protect the environment, the government in 2017 banned the use of plastic bags in Karnataka. To escape from the penalty that charges from Rs 1 lakh to Rs 5 lakhs, many traders, retailers, vendors and shopkeepers switched from using plastic bags to eco-friendly bags made of paper or jute. But this measure saw a drastic change in the prices of the carry bags.
“We realised that the recyclable bags are 2-3 times costlier than the plastic bags, so we continued to charge our customer. But, it’s their choice to take it or not,” said a retail shop manager..
Plastic Waste (Management and Handling) rules 2011 stated that no (plastic) carry bags shall be made available free of cost by retailers to consumers. Through this rule, ministry of forest and environment intended to enforce the idea of ‘polluters pay’ to reduce the use of plastic. But after the2016 plastic ban, there was an amendment that dropped the rule which made it mandatory for every customer to pay for the carry bag.
This debate over ‘who should bear the cost of carry bags?’ started in April, last year, when a costumer from Chandigarh, filed a case against India’s major footwear company Bata for charging Rs 3 for a carry bag. Yielding to the consumer forum’s argument that the carry bag must be free of cost for products purchased from the same shop, Bata had to pay a compensation of Rs 9000 to the complainant.
The Softcopy found out that most of the top-notch famous clothing and fashion brands, have already started providing carry bags for free, whereas there is still a large portion of retail shops in Bengaluru—especially supermarts, that continue to profit from carry bags, charging explicitly between Rs 5 to Rs 25.
“We charge Rs 7- Rs 10 depending on the size of the carry bag. The price is reasonable to what we pay for these carry bags, so it shouldn’t be a problem for the customers,” said Ron, he manager of the Entertainment Store at MG Road. “Although, we’re planning to make carry bags free of cost, since it’s become a hot topic.”
The argument has not only drawn consumer rights activists’ attention, but has also raised many eyebrows in the city where thousands of consumers feel that they are indirectly being used to promote a certain brand through carry bags.
“Charging for carry bags is not justified. And especially, when these big companies have their logo all over the carry bag, promoting their brand like anyone. All these marketing tactics are to lure people and increase brand value, and this must be a part of their advertisement budget and not customers’ purchase,” said Shree Hari Saijan, a customer.
In a contrary statement, advocate S K Rajendra, a legal advisor of Consumer Rights says that we are not accustomed to paying for a carry bag and making eco-friendly bags free of cost won’t help save the environment.
“People can carry their own bags while going on shopping. Customers must realise that they have to change their behaviour. Although, companies must find different ways in which they can promote their brand, apart from endorsing it on the carry bags,” he added.
Mallesha KR, a member of Environment Support Group said, “The price of carry bags should be partially reduced, but not completely removed because then people will continue to be ignorant. State government must keep an eye on those who try to endorse their brand through carry bags and stern actions should be taken against them.”