Single-use plastics have been banned in several states of India, including Jammu and Kashmir. However, implementation of this ban in J&K has so far been poor, with lack of alternatives being a common barrier.The rich, traditional handicrafts industry of Kashmir could provide innovative solutions that act as alternatives to plastic.Mongabay-India explores the current status of traditional artisans and their craft, especially those making wicker baskets, in the state, and examines the possibility of their revival. “People now prefer plastic for everything,” rued Ghulam Rasool Ganie, as he deftly worked on a wicker basket, at his residence in Sogman Lolab, some hundred kilometres north of Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir’s summer capital. “These days, I hardly sell twenty baskets a month on an average.” Ganie sold over seventy wicker baskets a month until a few years ago, at prices ranging from 30 to 100 rupees per basket. But that era, according to Ganie, “has gone now.” The story of falling sales of traditional wicker baskets is a common one in many artisans’ households in Kashmir. A decade ago, these baskets made from locally produced kaani (wicker) by Ganie and his fellow craftsmen, were a familiar sight in villages here, used in carrying and storing farm-produce and other commodities. But now, artisans like Ganie are compelled to shore up their income by working as manual labour at construction sites. The ubiquitous plastic bag has made deep inroads into rural Kashmir, as in the rest of India. While the use of these bags has been banned through legislation in several states, including in Jammu and Kashmir, the ban has not always been effective. As a case in point, plastic bags and containers have steadily taken the place of traditional kranjul wicker baskets that women in Kashmir used to carry vegetables in. And people are now reluctant to give up the “plastic habit”, even in the face of a ban. In March of this year, the state government imposed a complete ban on single-use plastic items like disposable tableware. The spread of plastics over the years has dealt a crippling blow to Kashmir’s once-booming wicker handicrafts industry. Can this craft make a comeback, now that the plastic bag is illegal? Environmentalists and local craftsmen definitely hope so. But there are several hurdles to cross before wicker can regain its former prominence in Kashmir and become a viable alternative to plastic. Plastic waste from markets accumulates in water bodies and agricultural lands. Photo by Athar Parvaiz. Irresponsible disposal of plastic impacts environment Ali Mohammad, who sells wicker baskets among other items in Srinagar’s Dargah Hazratbal, is upset that people have stopped using local products for carrying things, instead favouring cheap and easily available plastic carry-bags and containers. “The locally made products which we sell, are safe to use and can be reused for years. But people still prefer to carry things in plastic bags and later throw them in Dal Lake and other water bodies. See how we have polluted our lakes!” Mohammad said. He added that the government has not told people how the ban imposed on plastic would be implemented. Abdul Rashid Shora, a 72-year-old from Zakura, said he had come to buy a zaen basket from Mohammad, as the one at his home had worn out. “I can’t understand why everyone is hell-bent on destroying nature,” commented Shora, exasperated. “Our society has now accepted polythene, but abandoned our beautiful culture and traditions.” Zaen used to be an important item in every Kashmiri household, used for carrying bread and groceries from the market, but not anymore. Memories of men carrying small zaen to buy bread from the bakers have now faded. Similarly, the sight of rural women carrying farmyard waste or produce in paej (a large wicker-basket) is almost history as large plastic containers are rapidly replacing the wicker baskets. Though it has not entirely vanished, the kranjul (another type of wicker basket) is clearly on the decline, even as some people hold on to these traditional containers. “Taking vegetables home from my farm is a unique experience altogether. I hate plastic as it is not pure. The kranjul is pure and without any infection,” asserted Saja Begam, a woman in north Kashmir’s Chandarhama village, while collecting hund, a wild vegetable, near the Haigam wetland. “One day, people who have now taken to plastic will realise what costs they are paying for using it,” Begam told Mongabay-India. What she mentions is already happening in many villages. Farmers at Nagbal, Ganderbal district, speaking to Mongabay-India, lamented the accumulation of all the plastic waste from nearby markets in their rice-fields. Garbage produced at markets is disposed off into an irrigation canal which goes through their farms, carrying the waste there. The farmers need to frequently clear out the waste from their farms; they claim plastic waste is “poison” to agricultural land, costing them additional labour and expense in removing it. “Every spring, in the past three-four years, we had to remove plastic waste from our farms,” Fata Begam, a woman farmer, informed Mongabay-India. Plastics, besides polluting Kashmir’s water bodies and mountain resorts, are also responsible for clogging drains in Srinagar city and other towns of Kashmir.