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Special Content

Issue no 10, 03 - 09 June 2023

Tackling Plastic Pollution


According to a 2023 report published by UNEP, globally, around 430 million tonnes of plastic is produced annually. Two-thirds of which are short-lived products which soon become waste. Plastic pollution has devastated our ecosystems and wildlife, our health and well-being and the global economy. The social and economic costs of plastic pollution reach up to US$600 billion per year. We are producing more and more plastic - it is embedded into every aspect of modern life. It is in our cars, homes, medical devices, and clothes. Much of plastic pollution is not visible to the naked eye. Microplastics - tiny fragments of plastic less than 5mm long-pollute our soil, water supplies and bodies. The theme for World Environment Day on 5 June 2023 will focus on solutions to plastic pollution under the campaign #BeatPlasticPollution. It aims to serve as a reminder that people's actions on plastic pollution matter and that it is time to accelerate this action and transition to a circular economy.

How can the world beat plastic pollution?: The circular economy is defined as an alternative to the linear 'take-makewaste'. It seeks to design out waste, regenerate natural ecosystems and keep materials and products in use for as long as possible. To this end, resources are not consumed and discarded, destroying their value. Rather, their value is retained by reusing, repairing, remanufacturing or recycling. A systems change is needed to address the cause of plastic pollution. A UNEP report 'Turning off the Tap' proposes reducing the most problematic and unnecessary plastic uses with three market shifts - Reuse, Recycle, and Reorient and Diversify - and actions to deal with the plastic pollution legacy which can possibly slash plastic pollution by 80 per cent globally by 2040.

Reuse: Promoting reuse options and transforming the 'throwaway economy' into a 'reuse society.

Recycle: Making reducing plastic pollution a more stable and profitable venture. Removing fossil fuels subsidies, and enforcing design guidelines to enhance recyclability.

Reorient and diversify: Shifting the market towards sustainable plastic alternatives will lead to a shift in consumer demand, regulatory frameworks and costs.

India's actions against Single-Use Plastic: India's plastic consumption has been growing significantly and despite per capita usage levels lower than most other developing and developed countries, plastic pollution has emerged as one of the significant problems in the country. In 2018, India committed to mitigating plastic pollution caused by Single-Use Plastics and declared the phase-out of Single-Use Plastics by 2022. In the Fourth United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) held in 2019, India piloted a resolution on addressing Single-Use Plastic product pollution, recognising 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. Demonstrating an iron will to tackle the issue at hand, India further tabled another resolution titled "End plastic pollution: Towards an international legally binding instrument" at the fifth UNEA meeting in 2022, which aimed at setting up an intergovernmental negotiating committee for a new international legally binding treaty. This resolution was historically adopted by over 175 countries. Making good on its promise India has implemented several regulatory measures to address Single-Use Plastics pollution and has made significant strides toward the fulfilment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

·         Ban on identified Single-Use Plastics: India has taken resolute steps to reflect its commitment to eliminate Single-Use Plastics that are not biodegradable and have an adverse impact on the environment. The strategy adopted by the Government to tackle unmanaged and littered plastic waste has two pillars - a ban on Single-Use Plastic items which have high littering potential and low utility, and implementation of extended producer responsibility on plastic packaging. The Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change, Government of India notified the Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016, in August 2021, with the aim of phasing-out singleuse plastic by 2022. The previous regulation forbade the use of plastic material in sachets for storing, packing, or selling tobacco and related products. This amendment further prohibited 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. These included earbuds 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, straws, trays, wrapping or packing films around sweet boxes, invitation cards, and cigarette packets, plastic or PVC banners less than 100 microns, stirrers.

·         Guidelines on the Extended Producer Responsibility Further, the Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change further notified the Guidelines on the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) for plastic packaging in February 2022. The amendment aimed at reducing the usage of virgin plastic material in packaging and recycling and reusing plastic packaging. The EPR guidelines also aim at environmentally sound management of plastic waste, strengthening the circular economy of plastic packaging waste, and promoting the development and certification of completely biodegradable plastic packaging. For its effective implementation, the amended EPR Guidelines were notified under the Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2021. The EPR Guideline also mandates the Producer, Importer, and Brand Owner (PIBO) for an environmentally sustainable collection and management of other plastic packaging waste which was not covered under the phase-out of identified Single-Use Plastic items. The guidelines mandated that the collection, processing, and disposal of solid waste including plastic waste should be according to the Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016 and Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016. In addition, to stop littering caused by the lightweight plastic carry bags, the Government increased the thickness of plastic carry bags from fifty microns to seventy-five microns with effect from September 30, 2021, and to one hundred and twenty microns with effect from December 31, 2022. This will also allow the reuse of plastic carry bags due to the increase in thickness. The above Guidelines have led to the establishment of the world's biggest framework for EPR implementation on plastic packaging. It promotes an environmentally conscious lifestyle that focuses on 'mindful consumption' through the reuse of rigid plastic packaging and sustainable plastic packaging instead of 'mindless and destructive consumption' of single-use plastics. It will lead to a reduction in littered and unmanaged plastic waste in the country, promoting a circular economy of plastic packaging waste, and reducing India's plastic footprint. The EPR framework has been implemented through a centralised online portal ensuring ease of doing business. This will encourage the development of new alternatives to plastics and new business models helping India move towards sustainable plastic packaging. Not only this, it will also enable the creation of new employment opportunities. The manufacturing of alternatives with eco-friendly materials in the MSME sector will further support the development of Atmanirbhar Bharat.

Other initiatives

·         The waste management infrastructure in the States/UTs is also being strengthened through the Swachh Bharat Mission-Urban (SBM-U) 2.0. The Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) lays special emphasis on the reduction of plastic waste generation and compliance with Plastic Waste Management (PWM) Rules. Key focus areas include source segregation of waste; segregated collection and transportation; the processing of segregated waste; setting up of Material Recovery Facility (MRF) in all ULBs; continuous awareness generation for reducing Single Use Plastic (SUP) and use of substitute products. The States/UTs also have been requested to constitute a Special Task Force for the elimination of Single-Use Plastics. A National Level Taskforce has also been constituted for taking coordinated efforts to eliminate identified single-use plastic items and effective implementation of Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016.

·         For effective monitoring of the ban on identified Single-Use Plastic (SUP) items and plastic waste management in the country, online platforms that are in operation are the National Dashboard on the elimination of Single-Use Plastics and effective plastic waste management; Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) Monitoring Module for Compliance on Elimination of Single-Use Plastic and CPCB Grievance Redressal App.

·         In order to spur innovation in the area of development of eco-alternatives, Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change (MoEFCC) organised an India Plastic Challenge Hackathon in 2021 for start-ups and students of colleges and Universities. Two innovative solutions for ecoalternatives were awarded under the Hackathon, a rigid packaging material made from rice stubble and a flexible packaging film made from seaweed, which can be used for wrapping and carry bag applications.

·         National Expo on Eco-Alternatives to Single-Use Plastic and start-up conference 2022 was held in September 2022. More than 150 manufacturers of eco-alternatives from across the country participated in the Expo. The eco-alternatives included material made from seaweed, bagasse, rice and wheat bran, rice stubble, plant and agricultural residue, banana and areca leaves, jute and cloth.

·         'Prakriti - Messenger of the Earth' was launched as a mascot of sustainability and protection of the environment to spread awareness amongst the general public. A public movement was built on the elimination of Single-Use Plastics by NSS, NCC where more than 100,000 eco-clubs from various schools and colleges participated.

Compiled by: Annesha Banerjee and Anuja Bhardwajan Source: PIB/indiascienceandtechnology.gov.in/NitiAyog/NewsonAIR/UN