Demand for cloth, paper bags surges in Chennai post plastic ban

By Sanchita Jain

“The orders we receive have increased triple fold ever since the ban, and we can finally sigh a breath of relief.”

Ramesh Dhar, 42, expresses a sense of relief at the rate of increased orders of paper bags since the Tamil Nadu government imposed a blanket ban on single-use plastic products on January 1, 2019.

Dhar, who has been working at Srivari Paper Bags for 18 years, says that for the last 15 years, they used to make marginal profits with surge in demand only during festivities.

However, the state government’s move has greatly benefitted them as retail giants like Saravana Stores, Nilgiri’s and GRT are placing bulk orders to comply with the ban.

The range of paper bags vary from Rs 6 to Rs 100, which includes the cost of sheets, printing and processing, depending upon the size and design required by the customers.

“The profit margin per bag has not increased by much as we still make Rs 2 only per bag, but the increased quantity of orders we get has definitely made life easier,” Madan, who works with two others at Srivari Paper Bags said.

While paper bag manufacturing in Chennai has seen a considerable boost since the ban, the real stock movers are cloth bag manufacturers.

The ban has given an opportunity of business to small scale manufacturers of plastic alternatives and sell them at wholesale markets like Sowcarpet, Koyambedu and T Nagar.

Krishna Nath of Smile and Smile Enterprises said, “Earlier, their target market used to be mainly foreign companies, only a small percentage of  Indian traders bought cotton bags. Now, they have started receiving large orders from retail outlets.”

The cost of producing one cloth bag of regular size is around Rs 4, which is sold on bulk orders for Rs 6-7 per bag.

The production is not standardized as they make customized cloth bags depending upon the specific requirements of the customers.

The demand for the bags has increased by almost 50 per cent, making it almost impossible for the manufacturers to meet the demand.

There are less than 100 large scale cloth bag manufacturers and most of them do not have a production unit of their own, but outsource the production to self-help groups and NGOs who use old clothes, curtains and bed sheets to make the bags.

“We are refraining from extending our operations for now as the increased demand will be curtailed in next six months. The bags are durable and can easily last for 100 days. Once people develop a habit of carrying cloth bags, there won’t be need to purchase more,” said Mahesh, a cloth bag vendor.

While plastic ban has improved business opportunities for cloth and paper bag industries, it has an adverse effect on the shopkeepers.

Prakash, a salesman at Nilgiri’s, Adyar, said that they are following the ban policy very strictly, and they charge customers Rs 9 to Rs 16 depending on the size of the cloth bag.

“Most of the customers understand the environment friendly aspect of it, some still have issues in shelling out money for the bags,” Prakash added.

“Now every time I step out of the house to buy something, I carry a bag,” said Rajula Seenivasan, 40, a shopper in Nilgiri’s.

“Since it is a new move and it doesn’t occur to us immediately,I have purchased the cloth bag a couple of times,” she added.

However, small vegetable and flower sellers are still using plastic to wrap their products despite the regular raids by Chennai Corporation officials as they find it uneconomical to purchase expensive cloth bags.

“The cost of purchasing cloth or paper bags does not cover the profit margin we make in a day,” says Lata, a fruit seller who sits in Adyar.