By - King Stubb & Kasiva on June 15, 2023
Plastic waste management poses a significant challenge in India, as the country's process of urbanization, industrialization, and economic progress has led to a rise in the production of plastic waste. The issue is further aggravated by the growing population and the consequent enhancement of living conditions. Recently the manufacturers of banned plastic bags and polystyrene items in Kolkata were warned by the environment minister of legal action if the sale and production don’t stop.
The ban on single-use plastics (SUP) is connected to the 4th United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) meeting held in 2019, during which India spearheaded a resolution addressing single-use plastic pollution, bringing global attention to the issue. A significant milestone was achieved in the 5th UN Environment Assembly when 175 countries committed to forming an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC). This committee has been assigned the task of drafting an international legally binding instrument by the end of 2024, which will guide global efforts to phase out and eventually eliminate plastic pollution.
As per the resolution, member states were instructed to:
The journey began in 1999 with the Recycled Plastics Manufacture and Usage Rules, which aimed to regulate the production and usage of recycled plastics, carry bags, and containers under relevant sections of the Environment Protection Act 1986. Over the years, the law has undergone changes and implemented various sets of rules to promote a healthier environment. In 2011, the provision specified that pigmented carry bags should only use pigments that adhere to Indian Standards. However, in 2016, the option to produce plastics in natural shades was introduced.
Organic pigments were emphasized due to their difficulty in dispersing, making the plastics more sustainable. Furthermore, in 2022, single-use plastics were completely banned, effective from July 1, 2022. Under the Plastic Waste Management Rules, Producers, Importers, and Brand Owners are obligated to fulfill certain responsibilities:
In India, the existing legislation focuses on prohibiting the use of plastic bags below 50 microns, as these thinner bags pose significant environmental risks. Nonetheless, the usage of plastic bags remains high since the ban does not extend to all types of plastic bags. While some prominent brands and vendors have started charging customers for polybags to discourage their use, this approach has been largely ineffective due to the absence of laws or guidelines mandating shopkeepers to charge customers for polybags.
The National Green Tribunal in Delhi NCR imposed a ban on disposable plastic items such as cutlery and bags, expressing concerns over India's mounting waste problem. However, despite the ban being effective from January 1, the government has taken no significant action. Consequently, plastic production and usage persist at alarming levels, contributing to India's position as one of the top four global producers of plastic waste.
Currently, several cities in India, including Delhi, Mumbai, Karwar, Tirumala, Vasco, Rajasthan, Kerala, Punjab, and Madhya Pradesh, have implemented bans on plastic bags. However, the enforcement and effective implementation of these bans remain challenging.
1. Advocating For A Global Framework: Initiating grassroots movements to support the implementation of a comprehensive international framework to regulate plastic pollution is crucial. This would ensure coordinated efforts across nations to combat the issue.
2. Rethinking Plastic Design And Usage: It is imperative to completely reconsider the design, uses, sale, and disposal of single-use plastics. By adopting innovative approaches and alternative materials, we can minimize plastic's impact on the environment.
3. Citizen Mobilization And Education: Educating and mobilizing citizens worldwide is vital. By raising awareness about the detrimental effects of plastic pollution and encouraging individuals to demand action from governments and corporations, significant change can be achieved.
4. Individual Responsibility: Encouraging individuals to take personal responsibility for plastic pollution by choosing to reject, reduce, reuse, and recycle plastic is essential. This can be achieved through educational campaigns and by providing accessible recycling infrastructure.
5. Local Government Regulations: Promoting and supporting local government regulations aimed at addressing plastic pollution is crucial. These regulations can include bans on certain types of plastics or the implementation of recycling initiatives.
One of the core challenges in addressing plastic pollution lies in waste management. It is imperative to explore alternative solutions for plastic materials. Additionally, providing a transition period for industries to adapt to alternative materials and offering tax rebates can facilitate their adoption. Immediate alternatives available include jute and upcycled cloth bags, wooden and bamboo cutlery, glass, leaf-based plates, and metal containers.
The government should prioritize research and development of technologies aimed at addressing the longevity of plastic materials. By developing technologies that reduce the decomposition time of plastics from decades to minimal levels, the environmental impact can be significantly reduced. Plastics should be manufactured using non-toxic elements and designed to minimize harm to animals. This would prevent instances where animals ingest plastic components, which can have detrimental effects on their lives.
To incentivize the adoption of alternatives, the government can introduce lower tax rates, affordable pricing, and easy availability of alternative materials. Concurrently, increasing the price and tax rates of plastic products would discourage their demand and usage. Plastic components that cannot be effectively recycled should be banned from manufacturing and development. This would encourage the use of recyclable plastics and reduce the production of new plastic materials in industrial sectors.
The UNEA plays a crucial role in addressing plastic pollution by facilitating international cooperation and action. It has led to the formation of an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) tasked with drafting a binding international instrument to phase out and eliminate plastic pollution. The UNEA resolutions also direct member states to adopt voluntary measures, develop national action plans, and provide statistical information on plastic waste management.
India's approach to plastic waste management has evolved through the implementation of various rules and regulations. Starting with the Recycled Plastics Manufacture and Usage Rules in 1999, the government has introduced measures to regulate the production and use of plastics. Over the years, provisions have been added to promote sustainability, such as the use of organic pigments and the ban on single-use plastics. The Plastic Waste Management Rules place obligations on producers, importers, and brand owners, emphasizing Extended Producer Responsibility.
The ban on single-use plastics has a direct impact on certain industries. FMCG companies face challenges in replacing plastic straws with paper-based alternatives due to increased demand and limited availability. E-commerce companies have had to switch to recycled plastic, paper, or cardboard-based packaging. Food aggregators are particularly affected as the ban covers all packaging materials, resulting in higher delivery costs and a lack of affordable alternatives for certain food items. These industries are facing operational difficulties due to the restrictions on single-use plastics.