A study conducted in 2019 by Un-Plastic Collective (UPC), a voluntary multi-stakeholder initiative to eliminate plastic pollution revealed that India generates 9.46 million tonnes of plastic waste annually, of which 40% remains uncollected and 43% is used for packaging, most of which is single-use. Centre for Science and Environment’s paper on plastic waste and its management in 2020 showed that 79% of the plastic made in the world enters our land, water and environment as waste, and some of it also enters our bodies through the food chain. The menace of plastics therefore must be curbed and the harm caused to the environment because of the use of plastics needs to be stopped. India in this regard has taken certain steps recently. These are discussed below.
What is single use plastic? Why is it harmful?
Each year we produce roughly 300 million tons of plastic and only half of it is disposable. Worldwide only 10-13% of plastic items are recycled. Single-use plastics, or disposable plastics, are used only once before they are thrown away or recycled. These items are things like plastic bags, straws, coffee stirrers, soda and water bottles and most food packaging.
·Plastic is not biodegradable and usually goes into a landfill where it is buried or it gets into the water.
·Although plastic will not biodegrade, it degrades into tiny particles after many years.
·In the process of breaking down, it releases toxic chemicals (additives that were used to shape and harden the plastic) which make their way into our food and water supply.
·For wildlife, micro plastics can be particularly dangerous: when eaten they can easily accumulate inside an animal’s body and cause health issues, like punctured organs or fatal intestinal blockages.
·These toxic chemicals are now being found in our bloodstream and the latest research has found them to disrupt the Endocrine system which can cause cancer, infertility, birth defects, impaired immunity and many other ailments.
·Our waterway plastic pollution is particularly concentrated: ten rivers carry 93% of the world’s total amount of plastic that enters the oceans via rivers each year.
·The majority of this pollution, dominated by single-use plastic waste, comes from countries lacking infrastructure to properly manage waste, particularly in Asia.
·Marine animals bear the burden of this influx of garbage into their habitats. Beached whales have been found with stomachs full of plastic trash.
·Plastic production also contributes to planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions at every point in its life cycle.
Single-use plastics are a glaring example of the problems with throwaway culture. Instead of investing in quality goods, we often prioritize convenience over durability and consideration of long-term impacts. Our reliance on these plastics means we are accumulating waste at a staggering rate.
In the 4th United Nations Environment Assembly held in 2019, India had piloted a resolution on addressing single-use plastic products pollution, recognizing the urgent need for the global community to focus on this very important issue. The adoption of this resolution at UNEA 4 was a significant step.
The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Government of India, has notified the Plastic Waste Management Amendment Rules, 2021, which prohibits identified single use plastic items which have low utility and high littering potential by 2022.
Plastic Waste Management Amendment Rules, 2021
The environment ministry unveiled a set of draft rules that propose to ban several categories of single-use plastic items:
·The proposed prohibition on their manufacture, use, sale, import and handling is in keeping with Prime Minister’s announcement in 2019 on phasing out single-use plastic by 2022.
·The draft Plastic Waste Management (Amendment) Rules, 2021 is proposed to be implemented in 3 stages by 2022.
·The manufacture, import, stocking, distribution, sale and use of following single-use plastic, including polystyrene and expanded polystyrene, commodities shall be prohibited with effect from the 1st July, 2022:
·ear buds with plastic sticks, plastic sticks for balloons, plastic flags, candy sticks, ice-cream sticks, polystyrene [Thermocol] for decoration
·plates, cups, glasses, cutlery such as forks, spoons, knives, straw, trays, wrapping or packing films around sweet boxes, invitation cards, and cigarette packets, plastic or PVC banners less than 100 micron, stirrers.
·In order to stop littering due to light weight plastic carry bags, with effect from 30th September, 2021, the thickness of plastic carry bags has been increased from 50 microns to 75 microns and to 120 microns with effect from the 31st December, 2022. This will also allow reuse of plastic carry due to increase in thickness.
Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016: The Government has also been taking measures for awareness generation towards elimination of single use plastics and effective implementation of Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016.
·A two month long Awareness Campaign of Single Use Plastic 2021 was organized.
·The Ministry also organized pan India essay writing competition on the theme for spreading awareness amongst school students in the country.
·States/UTs have been requested to constitute a Special Task Force for elimination of single use plastics and effective implementation of Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016.
·A National Level Taskforce has also been constituted by the Ministry for taking coordinated efforts to eliminate identified single use plastic items and effective implementation of Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016.
·The State /UT Governments and concerned departments have also been requested to develop a comprehensive action plan for elimination of single use plastics and effective implementation of Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016, in a time bound manner.
The decisions follow recommendations made by an expert group constituted by the Department of Chemicals and Petrochemicals two years ago. In 2018, India won praise globally for asserting on World Environment Day that it would eliminate all single-use plastic by 2022. The approach gives producers the responsibility to treat and dispose the products
after their consumption. The central government will amend the plastic waste management law to make rules for the effective implementation of Extended Producer Responsibility.
·In the three-stage ban, the first category of SUP items proposed to be phased out are plastic sticks used in balloons, flags, candy, ice-cream and ear buds, and thermocol that is used in decorations.
·The second category, proposed to be banned from July 1, 2022, includes items such as plates, cups, glasses and cutlery such as forks, spoons, knives, straws, trays; wrapping and packing films used in sweet boxes; invitation cards; cigarette packets; stirrers and plastic banners that are less than 100 microns in thickness.
·A third category of prohibition is for non-woven bags below 240 microns in thickness. This is proposed to start from September 30, 2022.
·The draft has, for the first time, defined non-woven plastic bags - widely used as shopping bags - and brought brand owners as well as plastic waste processors under its ambit.
·It has also defined thermoset plastic which are irreversibly rigid and cannot be remoulded, and thermoplastics, which soften on heating.
·The items that had a low score on utility scale and high score on environmental-impact scale were recommended for prohibition.
22 States have, in the past, announced a ban on SUP, but waste choking wetlands and waterways still continue.
·Lack of proper waste segregation leading to difficulties in recycling
·34 lakh tonnes of plastic waste generated in 2019-20 in India and only about 60% is recycled.
·Nearly 43% of India’s plastics are used in packaging and much of it is SUP.
·The All India Plastic Manufacturers’ Association (AIPMA), one of the largest trade bodies representing the plastics industry, has requested the government to push the deadline for phasing out SUP products by a period of one year to 2023 owing to economic distress faced by manufacturing units due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
·Inadequate infrastructure for segregation and collection is the key reason for inefficient plastic waste disposal.
·There has to be a change in people’s mindset and behaviour. Plastics are strong, lightweight and useful and can be saved, cleaned and reused many times and hence preferred by people.
·Managing plastic waste requires effective knowledge, not only among those who produce the plastic, but also among those who handle it.
·Methods to understand the total amount of plastic waste that we generate by means of proper calculations.
·To identify the avenues where the use of plastic can be minimised.
·The focus should be on using 4Rs principle (Reduce, Rejuvenate, Reuse, and Recycle) to conserve the environment from plastic waste disposal.
·Raise awareness among people to minimise their use of plastics.
Down to earth