Centre notifies ban on single-use plastic
The Union environment ministry has notified the Plastic Waste Management Amendment Rules, 2021, that make it mandatory for the thickness of plastic carry bags to be increased to 120 microns by the end of next year, and prohibit the manufacture, import, stocking, distribution, sale and use of several products with low utility but high littering potential.
The permitted thickness of the plastic bags, currently 50 microns, will be increased to 75 microns from September 30, 2021, and to 120 microns from the December 31, 2022, according to the notification published on August 12.
The ban on products -- these include 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 of less than 100 micron thickness -- will come into force from July 1, 2022.
The notification is in line with India’s stand at the 4th United Nations Environment Assembly held in 2019, when the country moved a resolution on addressing single-use plastic products pollution by 2022. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was also conferred the “champions of the earth” award by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in 2018 for pledging to eliminate all single-use plastic by 2022. The PM had also called on people to stop use of single-use plastic bags in his Independence Day speech in 2019.
Plastic packaging waste not covered under the phasing out of identified single use plastic items will be collected and managed in an “environmentally sustainable way” through the extended producer responsibility (EPR) of the producers, importers and brand owners, as per Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016, according to a statement issued by the environment ministry on Friday.
A framework for EPR was already there in the Plastics Waste Management Rules, 2016 but the Plastic Waste Management (Amendment) Rules, 2021 says that guidelines will be issued from time to time for implementation of the EPR. “This means there will be legal backing for EPR,” said a senior environment ministry official who did not wish to be named.
The waste management infrastructure in states and Union territories is being strengthened through the Swachh Bharat Mission, the environment ministry said on Friday, adding States and UTs have been requested to constitute special task forces for elimination of single-use plastics.
A national level task force was constituted by the ministry for coordinating the elimination of identified single-use plastic items, and for the implementation of Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016.
According to a fact sheet released by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) and environment ministry in 2018, around 43% of manufactured plastics are used for packaging purpose and most are of single-use. Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) estimated that each person in India uses about 9.7kg of plastics annually, most of which is packaging related.
If consumption patterns and waste management practices are not improved, by 2050 there will be around 12 million metric tonnes of plastic litter in landfills and in the environment. Single use plastic contaminates soil and water; choke waterways and exacerbate natural disasters -- by 2050, an estimated 99% of seabirds will have ingested plastic. Plastics also block sewage systems and provide breeding grounds for mosquitoes; release toxic chemicals and emissions when burned.
With the rules being notified, however, plastic manufacturers expressed concern about its impact on thousands of small and medium industries.
“We are aligned to the idea of Swachch Bharat and the need to manage plastic waste. But we have certain reservations with some clauses in the notification. The idea of increasing thickness of plastic carry bags to 120 microns doesn’t reconcile with resource efficiency or sustainable development goals. Nowhere in the world has the thickness of plastic carry bags been increased to address the issue of waste management. The notification also states that plastic bags and commodities will have to increase thickness to 120 microns. Commodities have also been added to this clause now. This will be detrimental for the Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises,” said Hiten Bheda, chairman, environment committee, All India Plastics Manufacturers Association (AIPMA).
“If they mean plastic packaging by the word ‘commodities‘then a large number of industries will be very badly affected. We are just recovering from a pandemic. Huge investments will be needed in upgrading machinery to produce bags of 120 micron thickness. We had suggested that the thickness increase be capped to 65 or 75 microns,” added Deepak Ballani, director general, AIPMA.
The government official quoted above said the views of the industry has been taken into account. “We had consultations with industry bodies and manufacturer associations and some of their suggestions have been incorporated. For example we have given more time for increasing plastic carry bag thickness to 120 microns. On the thickness requirement for commodities clause they may be misreading it because it applies only to plastic carry bags,” the senior official added.
Experts said effecting behavioural change was the key to implementing the policy.
“We have to focus on behaviour change and minimisation; on expediting R&D on alternatives with clear details on social, environmental and economic cost of the alternatives; and there are over 10,000 unorganised recycling industries involving over a million-plus informal workforce , many of which produce single-use items listed that are to be banned -- their training and shift to alternative industry is imperative,” said Swati Singh Sambyal, an independent waste management expert.