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[Sansad TV] Plastic Waste Management

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  • Recently a report on Plastic Waste Management was released by Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs.
  • Also the Environment Ministry has issued draft rules on Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) that mandate producers of plastic packaging material to collect all of their produce by 2024.

Introduction

Plastic is ubiquitous, it’s visibly the backbone of globalisation. Plastic, without doubt, is the miracle commodity that has uses ranging from increasing shelf lives of eatables to medical equipment and automotive.

  • Plastic products have become an integral part of our daily life as a result of which the polymer is produced at a massive scale worldwide.
  • Its broad range of application is in packaging films, wrapping materials, shopping and garbage bags, fluid containers, clothing, toys, household and industrial products, and building materials.

Why is Plastic so popular?

  1. Durability and low maintenance
  2. Low material replacement
  3. Low weight
  4. Cheaper availability

Plastic Consumption in India

  • The CPCB Report of 2019-20 states that 3.4 million metric tonnes of plastic waste is generated in India annually.
  • The global average of plastic per capita consumption is 28 kg and India has a per capita plastic consumption of 11 kg.
  • India recycles over 60 per cent of its plastic (a/c to MoHUA), which was way higher than the recycling capacity of any developed country.
  • Only nine per cent of the plastic waste produced between 1950 and 2015 was recycled globally, according to a study by researchers from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and others.

Hazards of Plastic

[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.

Plastic Waste Management (PWM Rules) in India

These rules first rolled out in 2016 were amended and named as ‘Plastic Waste Management (Amendment) Rules, 2018. Its salient features include:

Applied to: These rules shall apply to every Waste Generator, Local Body, Gram Panchayat, Manufacturer, Importer, Producer and Brand Owner.

Thickness of virgin plastic: Carry bags made of virgin or recycled plastic, shall not be less than 50 ( now 120  after Amendment in 2021) microns in thickness.

Waste Generators including institutional generators, event organizers shall not litter the plastic waste, shall segregate waste and handover to authorized agency and shall pay user fee.

Local Bodies shall be responsible for development and setting up of infrastructure for segregation, collection, storage, transportation, processing and disposal.

State Pollution Control Board (SPCB)/ Pollution Control Committee (PCC) shall be the authority for enforcement of the provisions of PWM Rules, 2018, relating to registration, manufacture of plastic etc.

The draft Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2021 has necessitated a few changes in the country’s handling of its plastic waste.

Expanded applicability: One, the amendment has extended the applicability of the rules to brand-owner, plastic waste processor, including the recycler, co-processor, etc. 

New definitions: It will also include new definitions of:

  1. Non-woven plastic bag
  2. Plastic waste processing
  3. Single-use plastic (SUP) item
  4. Thermoset plastic
  5. Thermoplastic

Increased thickness: The ministry has proposed increasing the thickness of carry bags made of virgin plastic to 120 microns from 50 microns.

Ban on certain items: The draft also proposes a ban on the manufacture, import, stocking, distribution, sale and use of specific single-use plastic from January 1, 2022. These include plastic sticks for balloons, plastic flags, candy sticks, ice-cream sticks, and thermocol (extended polystyrene) for decoration.

Strategy for PWM

Issues in Plastic Management

Recycling here means ‘Down-cycling’

  • Most plastics that we claim can be recycled in India are rather down-cycled to some other material.
  • They are recyclable but recycled products are more harmful to the environment as this contains additives and colors.
  • The recycling of a virgin plastic material can be done 2-3 times only, because after every recycling, the plastic material deteriorates due to thermal pressure and its life span is reduced.
  • Hence recycling is not a safe and permanent solution for plastic waste disposal.
  • A classic example is that of PET bottles being recycled to t-shirts.

Way Forward

Given the broad range of possible actions to curb single-use plastics and their mixed impact, UN Environment has drawn up a 10-step roadmap for governments:

  1. Target the most problematic single-use plastics: by conducting a baseline assessment to identify the most problematic single-use plastic.
  2. Consider the best actions to tackle the problem: (e.g. regulatory, economic, awareness, voluntary actions), given the country’s socio-economic standing.
  3. Assess the potential social, economic and environmental impacts (positive and negative) of the preferred short-listed instruments/actions, by considering how will the poor be affected.
  4. Identify and engage key stakeholder groups – retailers, consumers, industry representatives, local government, manufacturers, civil society, environmental groups etc.
  5. Raise public awareness about the harm caused, by clearly explaining the decision and any punitive measures that will follow.
  6. Promote alternatives: Before the ban or levy comes into force, the availability of alternatives need to be assessed.
  7. Provide incentives to industry by introducing tax rebates or other conditions to support its transition.
  8. Use revenues collected from taxes or levies on single-use plastics to maximize the public good, thereby supporting environmental projects or boosting local recycling.
  9. Enforce the measure chosen effectively, by making sure that there is clear allocation of roles and responsibilities.
  10. Monitor and adjust the chosen measure if necessary and update the public on progress.

Best strategies:

Adoption of ‘Circular Economy’

  • A circular economy aims to eliminate waste, not just from recycling processes, but throughout the lifecycles of products and packaging.
  • A circular economy aims to maximize value and eliminate waste by improving the design of materials, products and business models.

Extended Producer’s Responsibilities (EPR)

  • State/ ULB to introduce ‘Buy back Depository Mechanism’ with a predefined buy back price printed on plastic products.
  • A national Framework on EPR is proposed where the producers/importers/brand owner is required to contribute to the EPR corpus fund at the central level.

Plastic Credit Mechanism

  • A producer is not required to recycle their own packaging, but to ensure that an equivalent amount of packaging waste has been recovered and recycled to meet their obligation.  
  • Producers are mandated to acquire evidence of recycling or recovery called the Plastic Credit from properly accredited processors.

Conclusion

Managing plastic waste requires effective knowledge, not only among those who produce the plastic, but also among those who handle it.

Brand owners, consumers, recyclers and regulatory authorities need to take long strides in ensuring that we first inventorize the total amount of plastic waste that we generate by means of proper calculations.

Best step would be to identify the avenues where the use of plastic can be minimised.  The brand owner and manufacturer should try and understand the fates a plastic packaging material would meet after its purpose of packaging has been served.

Last, as consumers, we should ensure that all plastic waste leaving our homes is segregated and is not contaminated with food waste.

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