From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Single Use Plastics
Mains level : Plastic waste issue
- On this Independence Day address, PM called for a movement to eliminate single-use plastic in India, beginning on Gandhi Jayanti (October 2).
- The move is part of an ambitious drive against Single-Use Plastic (SUP), under the theme “Shramdaan”, for which a detailed plan has been worked out for ministries and departments.
- The government is reported to be working on a ban on certain plastic items of common use such as carry bags, cutlery and plates under the Environment (Protection) Act, and this may be announced on October 2, well ahead of the earlier deadline of 2022.
- As the name suggests, single-use plastics (SUPs) are those that are discarded after one-time use.
- Besides the ubiquitous plastic bags, SUPs include water and flavoured/aerated drinks bottles, takeaway food containers, disposable cutlery, straws, and stirrers, processed food packets and wrappers, cotton bud sticks, etc.
- Of these, foamed products such as cutlery, plates, and cups are considered the most lethal to the environment.
Plastic waste in India
- Per capita consumption of plastic is projected to go up from 11 kg in 2014-15 to 20 kg by 2022 (FICCI data); about 43% is single-use packaging with poor rates of recovery.
- In spite of the notification of the Plastic Waste Management (PWM) Rules, 2016, and amendments made two years later, most cities and towns are not prepared to implement its provisions.
- Even the biggest Municipal Corporations shouldering a staggering waste burden have failed to implement segregation of waste: collecting recyclable plastic, non-recyclable plastic etc.
- This is a growing crisis amid criticism of under-reporting of the true extent of plastic waste.
Plastic waste management
- The Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016 notified by the Centre called for a ban on “non-recyclable and multi-layered” packaging by March 2018, and a ban on carry bags of thickness less than 50 microns.
- The Rules were amended in 2018, with changes that activists say favoured the plastic industry and allowed manufacturers an escape route. The 2016 Rules did not mention SUPs.
- On World Environment Day in 2018, India pledged to phase out SUPs by 2022.
- The PM has called for “a new revolution against plastic”, and some government-controlled bodies such as Air India and the Indian Railways have announced they would stop SUPs.
A failed attempt earlier
- Recycling reduces the volume of non-recyclables that must be disposed of using methods such as co-processing in cement kilns, plasma pyrolysis or land-filling.
- Neither is plastic marked with numerical symbols (such as 1 for PET, 4 for Low Density Polyethylene, 5 for Polypropylene and so on) to facilitate recycling using the correct industrial process.
Alternatives to Plastic
- Although compostable, biodegradable or even edible plastics made from various materials such as sugarcane bagasse, corn starch, and grain flour are promoted as alternatives, these currently have limitations of scale and cost.
- Some biodegradable packaging materials require specific microorganisms to be broken down, while compostable cups and plates made of polylactic acid, a popular resource derived from biomass such as corn starch, require industrial composters.
- On the other hand, articles made through a different process involving potato and corn starch have done better in normal conditions, going by the experience in Britain.
- Seaweed is also emerging as a choice to make edible containers.
- In India, though, in the absence of robust testing and certification to verify claims made by producers, spurious biodegradable and compostable plastics are entering the marketplace.
- In January this year, the CPCB said that 12 companies were marketing carry bags and products marked ‘compostable’ without any certification, and asked the respective SPCB to take action on these units.
A Janandolan ahead
- A ban on single-use plastic items would have to therefore lay down a comprehensive mechanism to certify the materials marketed as alternatives, and the specific process required to biodegrade or compost them.
- 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.
- Consumers often have no choice in the matter.
- Other parts of the campaign must focus on tested biodegradable and compostable alternatives for plates, cutlery and cups, rigorous segregation of waste and scaled up recycling.
Impact on packaging industry
- Packaging is projected to grow into a $72.6 billion industry in India by 2020 from about $31 billion in 2015, with a proportionate rise in waste volumes.
- The pressure on producers to streamline the collection, recycling and processing of all forms of plastic is bound to grow.