Environment, GS-3, Uncategorized

A Plastic Emergency (ban on single-use plastic)

Context:

  • Before a ban on single-use plastic items comes into force, it is crucial to formulate a protocol that will identify the functional roles of different stakeholders.

A Movement to Eliminate Single-Use Plastic

  • The government is said to be working on a ban on certain plastic items of common use under the Environment (Protection) Act. This may be announced on Gandhi Jayanti.
  • Such items include carry bags, cutlery and plates.
  • Earlier, the deadline for the ban was
  • In his Independence Day address, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for a movement to eliminate single-use plastic in India, beginning on Gandhi Jayanti (October 2).
  • All the stakeholders have their own functional role in the movement:
  • Individuals and organisations need to actively remove plastic waste from their surroundings.
  • Municipal bodies must make arrangements to collect these articles.
  • Start-ups and industries should think of newer ways of recycling.

Plastic Waste Management (PWM) Rules:

  • The Plastic Waste Management (PWM) Rules were notified in 2016.
  • An amendment to the PWM Rules in 2018 mandates a six-month deadline for producers to arrange for recovery of waste.
  • They are supposed to carry out this in partnership with State Urban Development

Alternatives to Plastic:

  • Compostable, biodegradable or even edible plastics made from various materials such as bagasse (the residue after extracting juice from sugarcane), corn starch, and grain flour.
  • Compostable cups and plates made of Polylactic acid require industrial composters. Polylactic acid is derived from biomass such as corn starch.
  • Some biodegradable packaging materials require specific microorganisms to be broken down.
  • In Britain, articles made through a different process involving potato and corn starch have done better in normal conditions.
  • Seaweed is also emerging as a choice to make edible containers.

Challenges:

  • Most cities and towns are not prepared to implement the provisions of PWM Rules.
  • Recently, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) issued notices to 52 companies asking them to file their plan to fulfil their EPR (extended producer responsibility)
  • Even the biggest Municipal Corporations with a huge waste burden have failed to implement segregation of waste.
  • Segregation of waste means collecting recyclable plastic, non-recyclable plastic and other wasteseparately for processing by material recovery facilities.
  • There is also criticism of under-reporting of the true extent of plastic waste.
  • Most often, plastic is not marked with numerical symbols to facilitate recycling using the correct industrial process. Ex.: 1 for PET4 for Low Density Polyethylene5 for Polypropylene,
  • There are concerns regarding the viability (in terms of scale and cost) of alternative to plastic such as compostable or biodegradable plastics.
  • In the absence of robust testing and certification to verify claims made by producers, spurious biodegradable and compostable plastics are entering the markets.
  • Recently, the CPCB said that 12 companies were marketing carry bags and products marked ‘compostable’ without any certification. It also asked the respective State Pollution Control Boards to take action on these units.
  • Consumers often have no choice in the matter of food packaging used by manufacturers.

Threats in Future:

  • According to the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), per capita consumption of plastic is projected to go up from 11 kg in 2014-15 to 20 kg by 2022.
  • About 43% of it will be constituted by single-use packaging with poor rates of recovery.
  • Packaging industry is also projected to grow into a $72.6 billion industry in India by 2020 from about $31 billion in 2015.
  • There will be a proportionate rise in waste volumes which will increase the pressure on producers to streamline the collection, recycling and processing of all forms of plastic.

Way Forward:

  • After reducing the volume, non-recyclables must be disposed of using methods such as co-processing in cement kilns, plasma pyrolysis or land-filling.
  • It is required to prioritise the reduction of single-use plastic such as multi-layer packaging, bread bags, food wrap, and protective packaging.
  • comprehensive mechanism need to be laid down to certify the materials marketed as alternatives, and the specific process required to biodegrade or compost them.
  • City municipal authorities need to undertake rigorous segregation of waste and scaled up recycling.
  • The campaign must focus on tested biodegradable and compostable alternatives for plates, cutlery and cups.
  • The packaging industry must take its extended producer responsibility requirements under the law seriously. The industry should also look at innovation and new materials.

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