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Need a public movement to move away from single-use plastics

Jun 28, 2023

Behavioural change and availability of eco-alternatives is key to the success of the ban on single-use plastics. What is needed is a conscious effort by every member of society to adopt a sustainable lifestyle, Union environment minister Bhupender Yadav tells Vishwa Mohan

Ban on certain identified single-use plastic items created awareness but absence of stricter enforcement defeats the desired objective. How is the government dealing with this? 

In his Independence Day speech in 2019, PM Narendra Modi said that the time to ban single-use plastics (SUPs) had come. On July 1, 2022, India banned the manufacture, import, stocking, distribution, sale and use of identified single-use plastic items. Successful implementation of the ban requires participation at all levels – governments, manufacturers and users. Behavioural change and availability of eco-alternatives is key to the success of the ban.

After the ban came into force, enforcement campaigns have been carried out across India by the CPCB, and the SPCBs/PCCs (state pollution control boards). States and UTs have also been asked to conduct random inspections at border checkpoints to stop the inter-state movement of banned single-use plastic items.

The National Task Force has been reviewing the official measures while the states and UTs have set up special task forces under chief secretaries for the elimination of single-use plastics.

The government has taken steps to promote availability of eco-alternatives. Also, the supply of plastic raw material for the manufacture of banned single-use plastic items has been prohibited.

For the effective monitoring of the ban and with an eye on plastic waste management, online platforms such as the national dashboard are being utilised, including the CPCB Monitoring Module for Compliance on Elimination of SUP, and the CPCB Grievance Redressal App.

The success of the ban requires a public movement by the whole of society with the goal of moving away from SUPs and adopting a sustainable lifestyle.

Multi-layered plastics (MLP) have been kept out of the ambit of the ban. Why is it so? Will MLPs also be banned in the future?

The banned SUPs were identified on the basis of recommendations by an expert committee under the department of chemicals and petrochemicals. The criteria for the ban were low utility and high-littering potential coupled with the availability of alternatives.

The SUP ban is an ambitious one, covering 19 items. Many developed countries are still to implement a similar ban in such a comprehensive manner. Plastic packaging, including multi-layered packaging, is being covered under the Guidelines for Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) on plastic packaging. These guidelines have specific categories that cover multi-layered plastic packaging.

Fulfilment of category-wise EPR targets by producers, importers and brand owners will lead to the environmentally sound management of multi-layered plastics. Most importantly, the EPR Guidelines provide the way forward on adopting sustainable plastic packaging, which has low footprint and high recyclability.

A huge amount of plastic waste remains unutilised/ uncollected with most of it ending up in water bodies and the soil. How can this be tackled?

The EPR Guidelines on plastic packaging provide a market-based mechanism. They obligate producers, importers, and brand owners to get recycling certificates for the amount of plastic packaging they introduce in the market. This will lead to the utilisation/collection of plastic packaging and may also help in the removal of legacy waste dump sites that also contain plastic waste.

The government has also notified E-waste Management Rules, 2022, as well Battery Waste Management Rules, 2022. These incorporate EPR-based market mechanisms and will lead to the recycling of plastics that are part of e-waste or battery waste.

The effective implementation of these EPR-based rules will help in the expansion of the recycling infrastructure as well as the  mechanism for the collection of plastic waste.

Urban local bodies in Prayagraj, Ghaziabad, and other cities have started to use the EPR guidelines to remove legacy waste dump sites. The ministry has asked States and UTs to initiate actions through local authorities for stopping the flow of plastic waste into water bodies and drains.

Further, Swachh Bharat Mission 2.0 provides additional central assistance to urban local bodies for the remediation of legacy waste dump sites while Swachh Bharat Mission Gramin provides grants for management of solid waste, including plastic waste, in rural areas.

Does the country have enough alternatives to say goodbye to all single-use and multi-layered plastics?

The ministry of micro, small and medium enterprises is providing support to businesses under various schemes for technology upgrade and creating awareness along with marketing and infrastructure support for adopting alternatives to SUPs.

States and UTs are also taking steps to promote eco-alternatives. There are many success stories: the setting up of ‘bartan bhandars’ in every panchayat in Madhya Pradesh and of ‘Vikalp’ stores by the civic body in Delhi. There’s also the ‘Meendum Manjappai Campaign’ in Tamil Nadu aimed at promoting the use of cloth bags and the refillable model of Uttar Pradesh for encouraging reuse, among many others.

To develop alternatives to banned SUPs the environment ministry organised the ‘India Plastic Challenge – Hackathon 2021’ for startups and college students. Two startups were awarded. One developed a completely biodegradable alternative to thermocol from paddy straw waste. The other created packaging material using seaweeds.

A national expo on eco-alternatives to banned SUPs and Conference of Startups - 2022 was organised in Chennai jointly with the Tamil Nadu government in September 2022. More than 150 manufacturers of eco-alternatives from across the country participated in the event.

Eco-alternatives included items made from coir, bagasse, rice and wheat bran, plant and agricultural residue, banana and areca leaves, jute and cloth. Startups working in the area of eco-alternatives have been linked with the Startup India Mission and the MSME ministry for scaling up. The ban on SUPs has augmented the manufacturing capacity of eco-alternatives and development of new business models.

Have the industries responded adequately to the EPR Guidelines, notified last year for recycling?

Due to the clear framework and effective implementation of the guidelines notified in 2022, 16,288 producers, importers and brand owners (PIBOs), and 1,952 plastic waste processors (PWPs) –  as against 300 in 2021 – have so far registered on the centralised EPR portal developed by the CPCB.

The cumulative EPR obligation of registered PIBOs is more than 3 million tonnes, which is a significant chunk of the plastic waste generated in the country. The cumulative recycling capacity of registered PWPs is around 189 lakh tonnes per annum.

The EPR obligation of PIBOs is to be fulfilled by EPR certificates generated by registered PWPs. The details of registered PIBOs and PWPs and the availability of EPR certificates category-wise is in the public domain on the CPCB EPR dashboard. So far, 17.73 lakh tonnes of EPR certificates have been generated, of which 9.45 lakh tonnes of EPR certificates have been transferred online to registered PIBOs by PWPs while 8.27 lakh tonnes are still available.

It clearly shows that the industry has responded well to the EPR Guidelines and the measures taken by the ministry for ease of compliance.

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