From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Nothing much
Mains level : Single Use plastics
Prime Minister Narendra made an announcement that India would eliminate single-use plastics by 2022. In another statement on October 2, PM announced that single-use plastics (SUPs) will be phased out by 2022.
- SUPs refer to plastics that are used just once – in disposable packaging and also in items such as plates, cutlery, straws, etc.
- A FICCI study estimates that 43% of India’s plastics are used in packaging and much of it is single-use plastic.
- We also have completely unnecessary single-use plastic entering our homes in the form of covers for invitation cards, magazines, bread wrappers, and advertisements.
- Single-use plastic is part of a massive challenge of management of all kinds of plastic waste.
- SUP’s large and growing volume adds enormously to the total plastic waste.
- The growing volume is mostly because of rising e-commerce in India with people buying from companies like Amazon and Flipkart that use single-use plastic for disposable packaging.
- Plastic was invented by John W Hyatt in 1869. It has been an integral part of our lives and contributed much to the convenience of modern living.
- Its significance comes from the flexibility, durability, and lightness of this material.
- Plastics are used not only in airplanes, computers, cars, trucks and other vehicles, but also in our everyday-use items such as refrigerators, air-conditioners, furniture, and casings for electric wires, etc.,
Problems with plastic
- Plastic does not decompose naturally and sticks around in the environment for thousands of years.
- Safe disposal of plastic waste is a huge challenge worldwide.
- A Texas-sized great garbage patch of floating plastics swirling in the Pacific first attracted attention in the 1960s.
- A similar or even greater quantity of sunken plastic, especially discarded fishing gear, called ghost nets, blankets our ocean floors.
- Both floating and sunken plastics kill riverine and marine life.
- A study by FICCI points out that fast-growing consumption has brought us to a point where consumption has clearly outstripped India’s current capacity to recycle plastics.
- They pose a special problem. Although they are strong, lightweight and useful — and can be saved, cleaned and reused many times — this is mostly not done because they are available very cheap and are not valued. They become single-use plastics.
- A compulsory charge by retail stores on carry-bags has proven most effective in reducing their use without a ban.
- In Ireland, a minor charge added to every bill saw a 95% reduction in demand for such carry-bags, as most shoppers began bringing in their own reusable grocery bags.
- Discarded plastic bags are blown by the wind into drains and flood urban areas. They are used as waste-bin liners to dispose of daily food scraps and find their way into the stomachs of roaming livestock because the animals ingest them to get at the food inside.
- All plastic waste is eventually carried by rain, streams and rivers into the oceans.
- Close to 20 states in India have imposed a partial or total ban on single-use plastics at one time or another.
- Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Himachal Pradesh opted for complete bans, while others including Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Odisha have tried partial bans.
- The bans have not been successful because of poor state capacity to enforce.
- In India, the Plastics Waste Management Rules 2016 included a clause in Rule 15 which called for explicit pricing of carry-bags. This required vendors to register and pay an annual fee to the urban local bodies. Lobbying by the producers of plastics ensured that this clause was removed by an amendment in 2018.
- The Plastic Waste Management Rules of 2016 require creators of such packaging waste to take it back at their cost or pay cities for its management under Extended Manufacturer Responsibility. But there is little compliance.
Other issues to a ban
- In India, plastic producers have been advocating thicker and thicker micron sizes for carry-bags.
- When there is a ban on carry-bags, it leads to the use of non-woven polypropylene (PP) bags. They feel like cloth and are now even being printed to look like cloth: These are more dangerous for the environment as their fine fibers rub off and enter global waters as microplastics.
- Build awareness of the damage caused by SUPs and develop consumer consciousness to minimise their use.
- SUPs can potentially be converted by thermo-mechanical recycling into plastic granules for blending into other plastic products, usually irrigation piping for agriculture.
- The collection of post-consumer waste and recycling poses a major challenge. The multi-layer flexible packaging, which is used for chips and other snacks, cannot be made into granules because it contains layers of plastic with different melting points.
- India recycles much more than the industrialised countries through an informal network of waste collectors and segregators.
- Recycled plastic can be used to strengthen roads. Use of plastics more than doubles or triples road life — it has been approved by the Indian Road Congress and mandated by NHAI for up to 50 km around every city with a population of over 5,00,000.
- Replace the use of thermocol with totally biodegradable pith from the shola/sola plant.
We need many more such innovative ideas and a fundamental change in mindsets to minimise the use of single-use plastic.