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Editorial Articles

Issue no 15, 09-15 July 2022

Preventing Plastic Pollution with Circular Economy

Dr Ranjeet Mehta

I ndia has banned the manufacture, import, stocking, distribution, sale and use of identified single use plastic items, which have low utility and high littering potential, from July 1, 2022. This defining step is the outcome of the clarion call given by Hon'ble Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi to phase out single use plastic items by 2022. In response to the Prime Minister's appeal, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change notified the Plastic Waste Management Amendment Rules, 2021, on 12 August 2021. The Ministry notified the Guidelines on Extended Producers Responsibility on plastic packaging as Plastic Waste Management Amendment Rules, 2022 on 16th February, 2022. Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is responsibility of a producer for the environmentally sound management of the product until the end of its life. The Guidelines provide framework to strengthen circular economy of plastic packaging waste, promote development of new alternatives to plastic packaging and provide next steps for moving towards sustainable plastic packaging by businesses. Impacts of Plastic on Planet Earth Plastic production contributes to planetwarming greenhouse gas emissions at every point in its life cycle. The world is facing a Global plastic crisis; the status quo is not an option. Plastic pollution is a serious issue of global concern which requires an urgent and international response involving all relevant stakeholders at different levels. Out of the 8.3 billion tons of plastics produced since the 1950s, 79% ended in landfills or leaked into the environment. From the Mariana trench to Mt. Everest, there is virtually no place on Earth which is left untouched by plastic pollution. Plastic pollution-whether in our oceans, piling up on our coastlines, or contributing to our climate crisis-impacts vulnerable communities first. Even if plastic doesn't end up in the ocean, recycled plastic is often exported from high-income countries to developing countries to process. But the sheer amount of plastic waste inundates communities until they are drowning under thousands of tons of plastic trash. In 2015, researchers from the University of Georgia estimated that between 4.8 million and 12.7 million metric tons of plastic per year make their way into the oceans via people living within 30 miles of a coast. The majority of this pollutiondominated by single-use plastic wastecomes from countries lacking infrastructure to properly manage waste, particularly in Asia. India, for example, generates 25,940 tons of plastic waste every day but collects only 60 percent of it. Marine animals bear the burden of this influx of garbage into their habitats. Beached whales have been found with stomachs full of plastic trash. And recent studies found plastic in the guts of 90 percent of the seabirds tested and 100 percent of the turtles. Alarmingly, scientists estimate that there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by weight in 2050. Not only is plastic estimated to kill millions of marine animals and seabirds each year, it is also contaminating seafood that humans have relied on for millennia, particularly with microplastics in animals' guts.

Single Use Plastic - Dangerous to All Life Forms on Earth Single-use plastic are those items that are used only once and discarded.The adverse impacts of littered single use plastic items on both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, including in marine environment, are globally recognized. Addressing pollution due to single use plastic items has become an important environmental challenge confronting all countries. Single-use plastic products (SUPPs) may epitomize convenience, but with the damage they cause through production, distribution and litter, they are a major threat to environmental and human health. The UN Environment Programme's (UNEP's) report titled 'From Pollution to Solution' shows there are currently between 75-199 million tons of plastic waste in the ocean, and in 2016 some 9-14 tons of waste entered the aquatic ecosystem. It is estimated that by 2040, this will have almost tripled to 23-37 million tons per year. Plastics are the largest, most harmful and most persistent of marine litter, accounting for at least 85 per cent of all marine waste. India alone generates 9.46 million tonnes of plastic waste every year, around 43% of which comprises single-use plastic. It poses a mammoth problem for India since 40% of plastic waste remains uncollected. According to World Wildlife Fund (WWF), plastic is harmful to the environment as it is nonbiodegradable, takes years to disintegrate. Single-use plastics slowly and gradually break down into smaller pieces known as microplastics. It can take thousands of years for plastic bags to decompose, thus contaminating our soil and water in the process. The noxious chemicals used to produce plastic gets transmitted to animal tissue, and finally, enter the human food chain, the WWF claims. Birds usually confuse shreds of plastic bags for food and end up eating the toxic debris. Fish consume thousands of tons of plastic in a year, ultimately transferring it up the food chain to marine mammals. Single-use plastics are a glaring example of the problems with throwaway culture. Instead of investing in quality goods that will last, 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. We produce 300 million tons of plastic each year worldwide, half of which is for single-use items. That's nearly equivalent to the weight of the entire human population.

Single Use Plastic Items Prohibited from 1st July 2022 in India

A-Plastic Sticks

1.      Ear-buds

2.      Balloons

3.      Candy

4.      Ice-cream

B- Cutlery Items

1.      Plates, cups, glasses, forks, spoons, knives, trays

2.      Glass

3.      Forks

4.      Spoons

5.      Knives

6.      Trays

C- Packaging/Wrapping Films

1.      Sweet box

2.      Invitation cards

3.      Cigarette Packets

D- Other Items

1.      PVC banners < 100 μm

2.       Polystyrene for decoration


Ensuring Effective Enforcement

·         National and State level control rooms have been set up and special enforcement teams formed for checking illegal manufacture, import, stocking, distribution, sale and use of banned single use plastic items

·         States and Union Territories have been asked to set up border check points to stop inter-state movement of any banned single use plastic items.

·         Capacity building workshops are being organized for MSME units to provide them technical assistance for manufacturing of alternatives to banned single use plastic items with the involvement of CPCB/SPCBs/PCCs along with Ministry of Small Micro and Medium Enterprises and Central Institute of Petrochemicals Engineering (CIPET) and their state centres. Provisions have also been made to support such enterprises in transitioning away from banned single use plastics.

·         The Government of India has also taken steps to promote innovation and provide an ecosystem for accelerated penetration and availability of alternatives all across the country

·         CPCB Grievance Redressal App has been launched to empower citizens to help curb plastic menace. For wider public outreach, PRAKRITI - mascot was also launched on 5th April

·         The Government has been taking measures for awareness generation towards elimination of single use plastics. The awareness campaign has brought together entrepreneurs and startups, industry, Central, State and Local Governments, regulatory bodies, experts, citizens organizations, R& D and academic institutions.

·         The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has already issued one-time certificates to around 200 manufacturers of compostable plastic. These certificates do not require renewal which is in line with ease-of-doing-business policy of the Government. Further, an online portal has been developed to facilitate certification of these manufacturers.

(The author is Senior Industry Advisor, Ph.D. in Management, with over 30 years of experience in leadership roles spread across various sectors. He can be reached at ranjeetmehta@gmail.com)

 Views expressed are personal.