The gaps in the plan to tackle plastic waste

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The gaps in the plan to tackle plastic waste

  • In October, the Environment Ministry published draft regulations on Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), set to come into effect by the end of this year.
  • Disregarding the commitments made by the Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016; the Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016; and the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM), these regulations denote a backslide, particularly with respect to integration of the informal sector.
  • EPR requires the manufacturer of a product, or the party that introduces the product into the community, to take responsibility for its life cycle.

Plastic Waste and Management

  • Global Scenario: Mismanagement of more than 7.7 billion metric tonnes of plastic waste globally over the next 20 years is expected, which is equivalent to 16-times the weight of the human population.
  • A 2019 report by the Center for International Environmental Law suggests that by 2050, Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions from plastic could reach over 56 gigatonnes, 10-13% of the remaining carbon budget.
  • India’s Waste Generation and Collection: India generates 9.46 million tonnes of plastic waste annually out of which 40% plastic waste goes uncollected.
  • 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.
  • 43% of all plastics produced in India are used for packaging, majority being single-use plastic.

Draft EPR Notification - Initiative for Plastic Waste Management:

  • It mandates producers of plastic packaging material to collect all of their produce by 2024 and ensure that a minimum percentage of it be recycled as well as used in subsequent supply.
  • It has also specified a system whereby makers and users of plastic packaging can collect EPR certificates and trade in them.
  • Only a fraction of plastic that cannot be recycled such as multi-layered multi-material plastics will be eligible to be sent for end-of-life disposal.

Challenges to Tackling Plastic Waste

  • The 3 P’s Neglected by Draft EPR:
  • People: Viewed from the angle of livelihoods, plastic waste management makes up about half of the income of 1.5- 4 million waste-pickers in India.
  • They are not only excluded from the guidelines as stakeholders, but also the guidelines direct producers to set up a parallel plastic waste collection and recycling chain dispossessing waste pickers of their means of livelihood.
  • Plastics: The EPR guidelines are limited to plastic packaging while a large part of plastics produced are single-use or throwaway plastic packaging.
  • Other multi-material plastic items like sanitary pads and polyester have been left out of the scope of EPR.
  • Processing: Processes other than recycling such as waste-to-energy, co-processing and incineration have been proven to release carbon dioxide and particulate matter.
  • The draft regulations have legitimised them to justify the continued production of multi-layered plastics.
  • Problem of Multilayered Plastics: Multi-layered and multi-material plastics form an abundant type of plastic waste.
  • These are low weight and voluminous and thus expensive to handle and transport. Being primarily used in food packaging, they often attract rodents, making storage problematic.
  • Even if this plastic is picked, recycling is technologically challenging as it is a heterogeneous material.
  • The Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016 mandated the phase-out of these plastics. However, in 2018, this mandate was reversed.
  • Improper Implementation and Monitoring: In spite of the notification of the Plastic Waste Management (PWM) Rules, 2016 and amendments made in 2018, local bodies, even the biggest municipal corporations, have failed to implement and monitor segregation of waste.