From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Single use plastics
Mains level : Need for plastic waste management
Since July 1, 2022, India has banned the manufacture, import, stocking, distribution, sale, and use of single-use plastics (SUP) items with low utility and high littering potential.
What are single-use plastics?
- Single-use plastics, often also referred to as disposable plastics, are commonly used for plastic packaging and include items intended to be used only once before they are thrown away or recycled.
- These include, among other items, grocery bags, food packaging, bottles, straws, containers, cups and cutlery.
Why are single-use plastics harmful?
- The purpose of single-use plastics is to use them once or for a short period of time before disposing of them. Plastic waste has drastic impacts on the environment and human health.
- There is a greater likelihood of single-use plastic products ending up in the sea than reusable ones.
SUP ban in India
- India has taken resolute steps to mitigate pollution caused by littered single-use plastics.
- A number of items are banned, including earbuds with plastic sticks, balloon sticks, plastic flags, candy sticks, ice cream sticks, polystyrene (thermocol) for decorations, plates, cups, glasses, cutlery such as forks, spoons, knives, straws etc.
- India has also banned plastic or PVC banners less than 100 micron, stirrers, etc.
What is the impact on the environment?
[A] Solid Waste generation
- The disposal of plastics is one of the least recognized and most highly problematic areas of plastic’s ecological impact.
- Ironically, one of plastic’s most desirable traits: its durability and resistance to decomposition, is also the source of one of its greatest liabilities when it comes to the disposal of plastics.
- A very small amount of total plastic production (less than 10%) is effectively recycled; the remaining plastic is sent to landfills.
- It is destined to remain entombed.
[B] Ecological Impact
(i) Groundwater and soil pollution
- Plastic is a material made to last forever, and due to the same chemical composition, plastic cannot biodegrade; it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces.
- When buried in a landfill, plastic lies untreated for years.
- In the process, toxic chemicals from plastics drain out and seep into groundwater, flowing downstream into lakes and rivers.
- The seeping of plastic also causes soil pollution and have now started resulting in presence of micro plastics in soil.
(ii) Water Pollution
- The increased presence of plastic on the ocean surface has resulted in more serious problems.
- Since most of the plastic debris that reaches the ocean remains floating for years as it does not decompose quickly, it leads to the dropping of oxygen level in the water.
- It has severely affected the survival of marine species.
- When oceanic creatures and even birds consume plastic inadvertently, they choke on it which causes a steady decline in their population.
- In addition to suffocation, ingestion, and other macro-particulate causes of death in larger birds, fish, and mammals.
[C] Health Hazards
- Burning of plastic results into formation of a class of flame retardants called as Halogens.
- Collectively, these harmful chemicals are known to cause the following severe health problems: cancer, neurological damage, endocrine disruption, birth defects and child developmental disorders etc.
- India is not the first country to ban single-use plastics.
- Bangladesh became the first country to ban thin plastic bags in 2002; New Zealand banned plastic bags in July 2019.
- China had issued a ban on plastic bags in 2020 with a phased implementation.
- As of July 2019, 68 countries have plastic bag bans with varying degrees of enforcement.
What are the plastic waste management rules in India?
- With effect from September 30, 2021 India has the Plastic Waste Management Amendment Rules, 2021.
- It prohibited the manufacture, import, stocking, distribution, sale, and use of plastic carry bags whose thickness is less than 75 microns.
- From December 31, 2022, plastic carry bags whose thickness is less than 120 microns will be banned.
- It means that the ban does not cover all plastic bags; however, it requires the manufacturers to produce plastic bags thicker than 75 microns which was earlier 50 microns.
- As per the notification, the standard shall be increased to 120 microns in December this year.
What is the role of the manufacturer?
- In addition, the Ministry of Environment, Forests, and Climate Change notified the Plastic Waste Management Amendment Rules, 2022 on February 16, 2022.
- Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is the responsibility of a producer for the environmentally sound management of the product until the end of its life.
- The guidelines provide a framework to strengthen the circular economy of plastic packaging waste, promote the development of new alternatives to plastic packaging and provide the next steps for moving towards sustainable plastic packaging by businesses.
Various steps taken
- The Indian government has taken steps to promote innovation and create an ecosystem for accelerated adoption and availability of alternatives across the country.
- To ensure the effective enforcement of the ban, national and State-level control rooms will be established, as well as special enforcement teams for the purpose of checking the illegal sale and use of single-use plastics.
- To prevent the movement of banned single-use plastic items between States and Union Territories, border checkpoints have been established.
- In an effort to empower citizens to help curb the plastic menace, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has launched a grievance redressal application.
What are the challenges?
- The ban will succeed only if all stakeholders participate enthusiastically and engage in effective engagement and concerted actions.
- However, if we look back at our past, almost 25 Indian States previously banned plastic at the state level.
- However, these bans had a very limited impact in reality because of the widespread use of these items.
- Now the challenge is to see how the local level authorities will enforce the ban in accordance with the guidelines.
- Banned items such as earbuds with plastic sticks, plastic sticks for balloons, etc., are non-branded items and it is difficult to find out who the manufacturer is and who is accountable.
- The consumer needs to be informed about the ban through advertisements, newspaper or TV commercials, or on social media.
- In order to find sustainable alternatives, companies need to invest in research and development.
- The solution to the plastic pollution problem is not the responsibility of the government alone, but of industries, brands, manufacturers and most importantly consumers.
- Finding alternatives to plastic seems a little difficult, however, greener alternatives to plastic may be considered a sustainable option.
- For example, compostable and bio-degradable plastic, etc., may be considered as an option.
- While the total ban on the use of plastic sounds a great idea, its feasibility seems difficult at this hour, especially in the absence of workable alternatives.
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