Plastic Waste Management

Topic

Plastic Waste Management

context

Unlike other forms of wastes like paper, food peels, leaves etc, which are biodegradable (capable of being decomposed by bacteria or other living organisms) in nature, plastic waste because of its non-biodegradable nature persists into the environment, for hundreds (or even thousands) of years

Plastic pollution is caused by the accumulation of plastic waste in the environment. It can be categorized in primary plastics, such as cigarette butts and bottle caps, or secondary plastics, resulting from the degradation of the primary ones

The Environment Ministry has notified the Plastic Waste Management Amendment Rules, 2021, which prohibit specific single-use plastic items which have “low utility and high littering potential” by 2022.

 

Types of Plastic Waste

  • Microplastics are small plastic pieces of less than five millimeters in size. 
    • Microplastic includes micro beads (solid plastic particles of less than one millimeter in their largest dimension) that are used in cosmetics and personal care products, industrial scrubbers which are used for aggressive blast cleaning, microfibers used in textiles and virgin resin pellets used in plastic manufacturing processes.
    • Apart from cosmetics and personal care products most of the micro plastics result from the breakdown of larger pieces of plastic that were not recycled and break up due to exposure to the sun or physical wear.
  • Single-use plastic is a disposable material that can be used only once before it is either thrown away or recycled, like plastic bags, water bottles, soda bottles, straws, plastic plates, cups, most food packaging and coffee stirrers are sources of single use plastic.
    • India has announced its commitment to eliminate single-use plastic by 2022at Confederation of Indian Industry’s Sustainability Summit in New Delhi.

Extent of Plastic Waste

  • Plastic Waste as a Global Phenomenon:
    • Over 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic has been produced since 1950, and about 60% of that has ended up in landfills or in the natural environment.
    • Only 9% of all plastic waste ever produced has been recycled and about 12%has been incinerated, while the remaining 79% has accumulated in landfills, dumps or the natural environment.
    • Plastic waste, whether in a river, an ocean, or on land can persist in the environment for centuries, hence by 2050, the amount of plastic in seas and oceans across the world will weigh more than the fish.
  • Plastic Waste in India:
    • According to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), India generates close to 26,000 tonnes of plastic a day and over 10,000 tonnes a day of plastic waste remains uncollected.
    • According to a Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) study the plastic processing industry is estimated to grow to 22 million tonnes (MT) a year by 2020 from 13.4 MT in 2015 and nearly half of this is single-use plastic.
    • India’s per capita plastic consumption of less than 11 kg, is nearly a tenth of the United States of America (109 kg).

Impact of plastic waste

Plastic Waste Management Amendment Rules, 2021

  1. What is banned? The manufacture, import, stocking, distribution, sale and use of the identified single-use plastic will be prohibited with effect from the 1st July, 2022. 
  2. The ban will not apply to commodities made of compostable plastic. 
  3. For banning other plastic commodities in the future, other than those that have been listed in this notification, the government has given industry ten years from the date of notification for compliance. 
  4. The permitted thickness of the plastic bags, currently 50 microns, will be increased to 75 microns from 30th September, 2021, and to 120 microns from the 31st December, 2022. 
  5. The Central Pollution Control Board, along with state pollution bodies, will monitor the ban, identify violations, and impose penalties already prescribed under the Environmental Protection Act, 1986. 
  6. The plastic packaging waste, which is not covered under the phase out of identified single use plastic items, shall be collected and managed in an environmentally sustainable way through the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) of the Producer, importer and Brand owner (PIBO), as per Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016. 

India’s efforts

  • India has won global acclaim for its “Beat Plastic Pollution” resolve declared on World Environment Day last year, under which it pledged to eliminate single-use plastic by 2022. 
  • At the fourth United Nations Environment Assembly in 2019, India piloted a resolution on addressing pollution caused by single-use plastic products. 

Challenges to phase out single-use plastic:

  • India does not have systems in place for effective segregation, collection and recycling. 
  • No policy for recycling plastics. Also challenges are there to set up a recycling plant because of environmental issues raised by Pollution Control Boards of various states. 
  • Single-use plastic has been a very good business, and that’s projected to continue. 
  • The economics favour more plastic production. 
  • A significant amount ends up in rivers, oceans and landfills are not recyclable. 
  • Also, Trade bodies like All India Plastic Manufacturers Association (AIPMA) recommends government to extend the deadline for phasing out SUP products by a period of one year to 2023 because of challenges caused by COVID. 

Way Forward

  • Raising awareness amongst the public of the harm caused by plastic pollution through education and outreach programs to modify behavior
    • A movement against plastic waste would have to prioritise the reduction of single-use plastic such as multi-layer packaging, bread bags, food wrap, and protective packaging.
  • Promote Alternatives, before the ban or levy comes into force, the availability of alternatives need to be assessed, hence the government may:
    • Provide economic incentives to encourage the uptake of eco-friendly and fit-for-purpose alternatives that do not cause more harm.
    • Support can include tax rebates, research and development funds, technology incubation, public-private partnerships and support to projects that recycle single-use items and turn waste into a resource that can be used again.
    • Reduce or abolish taxes on the import of materials used to make alternatives.
  • Provide incentives to the alternative industry by introducing tax rebates or other conditions to support its transition from plastic industry.
  • Expanding the use of biodegradable plastics or even edible plastics made from various materials such as bagasse (the residue after extracting juice from sugarcane), corn starch, and grain flour.
  • Use of microbeads in personal care products and cosmetics must be prohibited.
  • The Swachh Bharat Mission should emerge as a platform for plastic waste management.
  • Target the most problematic single-use plastics by conducting a baseline assessment to identify the most problematic single-use plastics, as well as the current causes, extent and impacts of their mismanagement.
  • Consider the best actions to tackle the problem of plastic waste management (e.g. through regulatory, economic, awareness, voluntary actions) given the country’s socio-economic standing.
  • Assess the potential social, economic and environmental impacts (positive and negative) of the preferred short-listed plastic waste management measures/actions, by considering how will the poor be affected, or what impact will the preferred course of action have on different sectors and industries.
  • Identify and engage key stakeholder groups like retailers, consumers, industry representatives, local government, manufacturers, civil society, environmental groups, and tourism associations in order to ensure broad buy-in.
  • Explaining the decision and any punitive measures that will follow, as a result of non compliance of plastic management rule.
  • Use revenues collected from taxes or levies on single-use plastics to maximize the public good, thereby supporting environmental projects or boosting local recycling with the funds and creating jobs in the plastic recycling sector with seed funding.
  • Enforce the plastic waste management measure effectively, by making sure that there is clear allocation of roles and responsibilities.
  • Monitor and adjust the plastic waste management measure if necessary and update the public on progress.