Single Use Plastics & Plastic Waste Management Rules Amendment, 2021

Context: Over the past 10 months, the Delhi government has banned plastic products twice. While 19 Single Use Plastic (SUP) items, including spoons and cups, were prohibited on July 1, 2022, a ban on plastic bags thinner than 120 microns came into force in January this year. However, many of these prohibited items are still used openly across the Capital.

About Single-use plastics

  • They are goods that are made primarily from fossil fuel–based chemicals (petrochemicals) and are meant to be disposed of right after use—often, in mere minutes. 
  • They are most used for packaging and service-ware, such as bottles, wrappers, straws, and bags. 
  • Pollution due to single use plastic items has become an important environmental challenge confronting all countries.
  • India imposed a nationwide ban on plastic bags, cups and straws on Oct 2nd, 2019 in its most sweeping measure yet to stamp out single-use plastics from cities and villages that rank among the world’s most polluted. 

In this background let us understand various aspects of the single use plastics issue.

Consequences of using single use plastic 

• Non-renewable: Only 1-13% of the plastic items are recyclable, the rest ends up either buried in the land or water bodies, eventually reaching the oceans, leading to polluting of water bodies and killing of marine life.

• Pollution: One of the biggest threats about plastic bags is that they threaten the environment. Plastic bags pollute the land and water, since they are lightweight, plastic materials can travel long distances by wind and water.

• Energy intensive: Production of plastic material are very energy intensive. They require a lot of water for their production. Thus, using plastic bags is not advisable.

• Threat to aquatic life: Being non-recyclable, plastic bags end up in the oceans. While they reach, they break up into tiny little pieces and are consumed by wildlife. Thereby leading to health issues or even death. Many animals also get entangled or trapped in plastic bags.

• Harmful to human health: Toxic chemicals from plastic bags can damage the blood and tissues. Frequent exposures can lead to cancers, birth defects, impaired immunity, hormone changes, endocrine disruption and other serious ailments.

Hence, with climate and environment becoming a rising global concern, plastic pollution and plastic waste management have become the point of worry.

Challenges to Phase out Single-use Plastic

• Effective waste collection: India lacks systems for effective waste separation, collection, and recycling.

• National Policy for recycling plastics: There is no policy in place for recycling plastics. There are also difficulties in establishing a recycling plant due to environmental concerns voiced by various state Pollution Control Boards.

• Attitudinal change: Changing one’s behavior to avoid using single-use plastic is difficult.

Plastic Waste Management Rules Amendment, 2021 

• Prohibition: 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 of July 2022.

• Compostable plastic: The provisions will not apply to commodities made of compostable plastic.• Timeline: The government has given industry ten years from the date of notification to comply with any future bans on plastic commodities other than those included in this notification.

• Thickness of plastic bags: The allowable thickness of plastic bags will be increased from 50 mm to 75 microns on September 30, 2021, and to 120 microns on December 31, 2022.

• Monitoring agency: The Central Pollution Control Board, along with state pollution bodies, will monitor the ban, identify violations, and impose penalties already prescribed under the Environmental Protection Act, 1986.

• Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR): According to the Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016, the plastic packaging waste that is not covered under the phase out of identified single-use plastic items must be collected and managed in an environmentally sustainable manner through the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) of the Producer, Importer, andBrand Owner (PIBO).

Government And Global Initiatives: 

  • India has announced its commitment to eliminate single-use plastic by 2022 at Confederation of Indian Industry’s (CII) Sustainability Summit in New Delhi.
  • India piloted a resolution on combating pollution caused by single-use plastic products at the fourth United Nations Environment Assembly in 2019.
  • India has received international praise for its “Beat Plastic Pollution” resolution, which was announced on World Environment Day last year and committed to eliminate single-use plastic by 2022.
  • Project REPLAN (stands for REducing PLastic in Nature) launched by Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) aims to reduce consumption of plastic bags by providing a more sustainable alternative.
  • The Group of 20 (G20) environment ministers, agreed to adopt a new implementation framework for actions to tackle the issue of marine plastic
  • waste on a global scale.
  • Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016 state that every local body has to be responsible for setting up infrastructure for segregation, collection, processing, and disposal of plastic waste.
  • Plastic Waste Management (Amendment) Rules 2018 introduced the concept of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR).

Way Forward

Effective waste management: India lacks a well- organized system for managing plastic trash, resulting in widespread littering. To strengthen processing, there is a need to invest extensively in increasing waste source segregation and supporting end-to-end waste segregation.

• Sustainable products: The government should put money into fostering the formation of businesses that supply sustainable products as an alternative to non- recyclable ones.

• Need for a new international legally binding agreement that addresses the entire life cycle of plastics, from extraction of raw materials to legacy plastic pollution.

• Chemical recycling and upcycling of polymers: Hitherto management of plastic waste was focused on mechanical recycling of plastic waste. 

However, strategies have been developed for chemical recycling of plastics into its constituent monomers and subsequently restructured into new polymers used for new plastic production. This will lead to circularity of the plastic ecosystem.

• Promoting use of waste plastics: Waste plastics are useful as a structural material and can be utilized as a binder for laying roads, making of blocks, table-tops etc. For example, Plastone is a structural material developed which is synthetic granite.

• Promoting biodegradable bioplastics: Bioplastics are a broad category of materials encompassing bio-based plastics that can be both biodegradable and non- biodegradable. They are manufactured from diverse sources such as crops and crop waste, wood pulp, fungi etc. with the help of algae or microbes. Examples of biodegradable bioplastics are polylactic acid (PLA) or polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs).

Practice Mains Question

Q. Despite adopting several measures, plastic pollution still poses a challenge for India. Examine. (250 words)

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