53% multi-layer plastic recycled, says MPCB; experts remain sceptical
Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) recently released data on the state’s efforts to recycle multi-layer plastic (MLP). According to the information made available to Hindustan Times, 53% of MLP waste generated in 2019 was processed as fuel. However, independent experts are sceptical of the claim.
MLP is the glossy cover in many processed foods, and groceries are wrapped. The wraps have layers of plastic and aluminium, making it hard to separate the components for recycling.
According to the Plastic Waste Management Rules passed by the Centre in 2016, all non-recyclable MLP (which is non-recyclable or non-energy recoverable or with no alternate use) was to be phased out by 2018. However, the same rules were amended in 2018 to include additional coverage and benefits to recyclers.
The waste that is being processed as fuel consists of MLP collected from customers, housing societies and plastic recyclers by producer responsibility organisations (PROs) engaged by large companies as part of their recycling programmes. MPCB data states that, of 23,600 metric tonne (MT) of MLP waste accumulated in the state this year, 12,500MT has been collected by PROs and sent to cement industries located at Chandrapur, to recover aluminium and convert plastic into alternative fuel or chemicals through a process called pyrolysis. The remaining waste has either ended up at landfills or littering land and natural water bodies.
“There is no proper recycling mechanism for MLPs,” said Nandkumar Gurav, regional officer (headquarters), MPCB. “However, since it has high calorific value, two major cement industries in the state have been separating the combined product of plastic and aluminium. Some of it is also being sent to cement factories in neighbouring states. Converting these products into fuel at very high temperatures also does not produce harmful emissions as by-products,” said Gurav.
Some independent experts believe the effort is a waste, as fuel is used to transport MLP to distant locations. They instead suggested opting for local solutions. “MPCB should have no business interfering in producer waste collection or disposal when it comes to tedious industry waste such as MLP since it is the company’s responsibility,” said Almitra Patel, Swachh Bharat national expert, and member of the committee which drafted the Municipal Solid Waste Management Rules, 2000.
“There are polymer-to-fuel unit systems which give charred oil and gas that are profitable by-products for industries at source. This is already being implemented by major companies, but sending the waste to cement industries is a waste of time, money and resources,” she said.
Patel said that the rules were amended to allow producers an escape route without taking responsibility for the safe disposal of MLP. “As a result, overall MLP has not reduced,” she said.
The All India Plastic Manufacturing Association (AIPMA) said the effort by industries was welcome but needed improvement. “Any effort towards pushing MLP towards end-of-life is useful. It is a good start as the cement industry was not accepting this waste, which ended up at landfills,” said Akhilesh Bhargava, chairman (environment), AIPMA. “Though the current initiatives are good, they will not handle the overall situation as civic bodies need to improve the collection system from slums to achieve the remaining target.”
MS Gill, advisor, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) pointed out that policy implementation should be worked on collectively. “There is a need to incentivise recycling of plastic through ethical guidelines. We must also check whether the speed of policy implementation is sufficient to cope with the pace of the plastic pollution problem,” Gill said.
Sudhir Shrivastava, chairman, MPCB, said that bigger companies are also not collecting all their MLP and the process is still being enhanced. “We must realise that MLP has good efficacies, properties, end-of-life use of fuel, and other by-products. So, apart from just using it at cement industries, there are several other avenues we are now exploring,” he said.