From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : SUP
Mains level : Paper 3- Plastic waste and its management
The threat posed by plastic waste to the environment is well established. The corona pandemic has led to an increase in plastic waste. This article suggests some ways to deal with the issue.
Rising plastic use during pandemic
- In 2018, a report by McKinsey estimated that, globally, we generate 350 million tonnes of plastic waste.
- Only 16 per cent of it is recycled.
- Today, due to pandemic the amount of plastic waste we are generating is much higher than that estimated in the McKinsey report.
- The Guardian recently reported that there are possibly more masks than jellyfish in the oceans today.
Management of plastic in India
- We have the Plastic Waste Management Rules of 2016, which were updated and amended in 2018.
- In fact, India saw incredible momentum in its fight for effective management of plastic waste in the last year.
- The Prime Minister made clarion calls for a jan andolan (people’s movement) to curb the use of single-use plastic(SUP).
- Jan andolan was also to ensure proper disposal of all plastic waste.
- Also, the entire country rallied together under the banner of the Swachhata Hi Seva campaign.
Why single-use plastic is different
- Plastic is not the problem, our handling of it is.
- We need plastic, but not SUP, which is difficult to dispose of effectively, and that is where the problem lies.
- It is important to understand this distinction.
- By understanding this distinction we may change our behaviour and our lifestyles, to balance our need for plastic with effectively managing its waste.
- One way to approach the issue is to treat it not just as an environmental problem but as an economic opportunity.
- We require new business models which are designed for sustainability.
- In Uganda, they are melting plastic waste to make face shields which are being sold for just a dollar each.
- But, most of all, we need a tectonic shift in the behaviour of consumers.
- We need consumers to care about their role in the plastic waste value chain.
- Under phase 2 of the Swachh Bharat Mission (Grameen) village communities are now starting to plan for setting up waste collection and segregation systems, with material recovery facilities at the block- level.
- Change is possible when we take necessary steps to Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and, when all else fails, Remove, or dispose of plastic waste safely and effectively.
- Raising awareness amongst the public of the harm caused by plastic pollution through education and outreach programs to modify behavior.
- 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.
- Promote Alternatives, before the ban or levy comes into force, the availability of alternatives need to be assessed, hence the government may:
- Provide economic incentives to encourage the uptake of eco-friendly and fit-for-purpose alternatives that do not cause more harm.
- Support can include tax rebates, research and development funds, technology incubation, public-private partnerships and support to projects that recycle single-use items and turn waste into a resource that can be used again.
- Reduce or abolish taxes on the import of materials used to make alternatives.
- Provide incentives to the alternative industry by introducing tax rebates or other conditions to support its transition from plastic industry.
- Expanding the use of biodegradable plastics or even edible plastics made from various materials such as bagasse (the residue after extracting juice from sugarcane), corn starch, and grain flour.
- Use of microbeads in personal care products and cosmetics must be prohibited.
- Target the most problematic single-use plastics by conducting a baseline assessment to identify the most problematic single-use plastics, as well as the current causes, extent and impacts of their mismanagement.
- Consider the best actions to tackle the problem of plastic waste management (e.g. through regulatory, economic, awareness, voluntary actions) given the country’s socio-economic standing.
- Assess the potential social, economic and environmental impacts (positive and negative) of the preferred short-listed plastic waste management measures/actions, by considering how will the poor be affected, or what impact will the preferred course of action have on different sectors and industries.
- Identify and engage key stakeholder groups like retailers, consumers, industry representatives, local government, manufacturers, civil society, environmental groups, and tourism associations in order to ensure broad buy-in.
- Explaining the decision and any punitive measures that will follow, as a result of non compliance of plastic management rule.
- Use revenues collected from taxes or levies on single-use plastics to maximize the public good, thereby supporting environmental projects or boosting local recycling with the funds and creating jobs in the plastic recycling sector with seed funding.
- Enforce the plastic waste management measure effectively, by making sure that there is clear allocation of roles and responsibilities.
- Monitor and adjust the plastic waste management measure if necessary and update the public on progress.
Consider the question “What are the legal provisions for plastic waste management in India? Suggest the ways to deal with the issue of plastic waste effectively.”
The corona pandemic crisis should not blind us to the plastic crisis and we should try to bring about the behaviour change when it comes to the use of plastic and devise the economic model.