Why plastic pollution in India continues unchecked

Despite the rules, there are many loopholes. The list of prohibited plastics does not include plastic packaging. Multilayer plastic cannot be recycled, but producers do not care about it.

India’s plastic demand in 2021-22 reached 20.89 million tons (Image: Getty Images)

By Tirtu Banerjee: On July 1 this year, India banned the manufacture, import, storage, distribution, sale and use of specified products single use plastic items all over the country.

The detailed list of prohibited items included plastic plates, cups, glasses, cutlery (such as forks, spoons, knives, straws, and trays), stirrers, earphones with plastic sticks, plastic sticks for balloons, plastic flags, candy sticks, ice cream sticks, Thermocol for decoration, wrapping films around candy boxes, invitation cards, cigarette packages, plastic or PVC banners less than 100 microns.

Although the move was aimed at curbing increasing plastic pollution in the country, the July rule did not include packaged plastic in the list of prohibited products. Furthermore, companies have been held responsible for recycling their plastic packaging waste under Extended Product Responsibility (EPR).

What is extended product liability?

On February 16, 2022, the central government published rules to amend Schedule II of the Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016. EPR guidelines and implementation are clearly spelled out in the new rules. It was clarified that environmental compensation should be imposed on polluters under the polluter pays principle if the EPR targets are not met by producers, importers and brand owners to improve environmental quality. They had to compulsory register through the central online portal and submit their business plan to the CPCB.

“The EPR Guidelines will give impetus to the formalization and further development of the plastic waste management sector. The online platform will allow the tracking and monitoring of EPR commitments and will reduce the compliance burden on companies through online registration and annual returns,” the government said at the time.

However, it is a matter of concern that only a small number of those who adhere to the EPR rule and few of them have registered on the central online portal. As a result, their activities remain unaccounted for. The CPCB and other concerned departments do not know how much plastic waste they collect, separate and recycle and what their infrastructure is.

There is no information about the business plan and EPR goals for these plastic producers, importers and brand owners. It is ironic that in a new notification in July 2022, the obligation to actually submit a business plan was rescinded. However, EPR remained the same as before.

Interestingly, although EPR targets are set by the CPCB, they are based on voluntary disclosure by plastic producers about the amount or volume of plastic manufactured or imported. However, this does not happen because most of them are reluctant to reveal publicly. But even if such an announcement occurs, what is the guarantee that it will be original or under-reported?

The rules emphasized that entities involved in waste collection would hand over waste for processing and recycling or for specified end uses. Each company must obtain a recycling certificate from their recycling partner. Although the EPR Guidelines provided for a verification and audit system for enterprises, it is like a paper tiger. Another loophole stems from the fact that producers or brands can buy credits if they fail to meet EPR goals.

Read | How much has the climate already changed?

Plastics that cannot be recycled

EPR includes rigid plastic packaging, flexible plastic packaging (single or multilayer), plastic sheeting and plastic caps, tote bags, plastic bags or pouches, multilayer plastic packaging, and compostable plastic tote bags.

The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) report (2019-20) stated that 3.5 million metric tons of plastic waste is generated in India annually. It is estimated that 15.8 thousand tons annually (TPA) of plastic waste was recycled and 1.67 thousand tons were processed annually, which means that 50 percent of the total plastic waste produced is recycled. It should be noted that not all plastics can be recycled – most are multi-layered such as shampoo bags, chocolate wrappers and wafer packages. The multi-layered layers are mostly burned, causing another sinister form of air pollution.

From 2021 to 2222, India’s plastic demand reached 20.89 million tons, and is expected to exceed 22 million tons by 2023, according to the State of the Plastics Industry 2021 report.

A report by the CPCB said that as many as 4,953 registered units are plastic-powered in 30 states/union territories in India. there 823 The report added unregistered plastic manufacturing/recycling units in nine states/UTs.

There is a strong informal sector, including rag collectors, who recycle heavily. But non-recyclable plastic waste has no cure. It must stop at its source. Until this is done, the plastic epidemic will continue unabated.

Read | How deep is India’s plastic problem and what does the future look like?

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