From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Single use plastics
Mains level : Need for plastic waste management
The Centre has banned the use of ‘single-use plastic’ from July 1.
What is the news?
- The Ministry for Environment, Forest and Climate Change had issued a gazette notification last year announcing the ban, and has now defined a list of items that will be banned from next month.
- The manufacture, import, stocking, distribution, sale and use of suc plastic, including polystyrene and expanded polystyrene, commodities shall be prohibited with effect from the 1st July, 2022.
What is Single-Use Plastic?
- As the name suggests, it refers to plastic items that are used once and discarded.
- Single-use plastic (SUP) has among the highest shares of plastic manufactured and used — from packaging of items, to bottles (shampoo, detergents, cosmetics), polythene bags, face masks, coffee cups, cling film, trash bags, food packaging etc.
- It accounts for a third of all plastic produced globally, with 98% manufactured from fossil fuels.
- SUP also accounts for the majority of plastic discarded – 130 million metric tonnes globally in 2019 all of which is burned, buried in landfills or discarded directly into the environment.
- On the current trajectory of production, it has been projected that single-use plastic could account for 5-10% of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
SUPs in India
- India features in the top 100 countries of single-use plastic waste generation – at rank 94 (the top three being Singapore, Australia and Oman).
- With domestic production of 11.8 million metric tonnes annually, and import of 2.9 MMT, India’s net generation of single-use plastic waste is 5.6 MMT, and per capita generation is 4 kg.
What are the items being banned?
- According to the Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016, there is also a complete ban on sachets using plastic material for storing, packing or selling gutkha, tobacco and pan masala.
- The items on which the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) have announced a ban are earbuds; balloon sticks; candy and ice-cream sticks; cutlery items including plates, cups, glasses, forks, spoons, knives, PVC banners measuring under 100 microns among others.
- The Ministry had already banned polythene bags under 75 microns in September 2021, expanding the limit from the earlier 50 microns.
- From December, the ban will be extended to polythene bags under 120 microns.
- The ban is being introduced in phases to give manufacturers time to shift to thicker polythene bags that are easier to recycle.
- While manufacturers can use the same machine for 50- and 75-micron bags, the machinery will need to be upgraded for 120 microns.
Why these items?
- The choice for the first set of SUPs items for the ban was based on difficulty of collection, and therefore recycling.
- The enemy is not that plastic exists per se, but that plastic exists forever in the environment.
- When plastic remains in the environment for long periods of time and does not decay, it turns into microplastics – first entering our food sources and then the human body, and this is extremely harmful.
- These items are difficult to collect, especially since most are either small, or discarded directly into the environment – like ice-cream sticks.
- It then becomes difficult to collect for recycling, unlike the much larger items.
- The largest share of SUP is that of packaging – with as much as 95% of single use belong to this category – from toothpaste to shaving cream to frozen foods.
- The items chosen are of low value and of low turnover and are unlikely to have a big economic impact, which could be a contributing reason.
How will the ban be enforced?
- The ban will be monitored by the CPCB from the Centre, and by the State Pollution Control Boards (SPCBs) that will report to the Centre regularly.
- Directions have been issued at national, state and local levels — for example, to all petrochemical industries — to not supply raw materials to industries engaged in the banned items.
- Directions have also been issued to SPCBs and Pollution Control Committees to modify or revoke consent to operate issued under the Air/Water Act to industries engaged in SUP items.
- Last week, the CPCB issued one-time certificates to 200 manufacturers of compostable plastic and the BIS passed standards for biodegradable plastic.
What if violation occurs?
- Those found violating the ban can be penalised under the Environment Protection Act 1986 – which allows for imprisonment up to 5 years, or a penalty up to Rs 1 lakh, or both.
- Violators can also be asked to pay Environmental Damage Compensation by the SPCB.
- In addition, there are municipal laws on plastic waste, with their own penal codes.
How are other countries dealing with single-use plastic?
- Bangladesh became the first country to ban thin plastic bags in 2002.
- New Zealand became the latest country to ban plastic bags in July 2019.
- China issued a ban on plastic bags in 2020 with phased implementation.
- As of July 2019, 68 countries have plastic bag bans with varying degrees of enforcement.
- Vanuatu and Seychelles have banned plastic straws outright.