Related Topics: Environment & Biodiversity, Plastic Pollution
- Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar has said that the Government will not impose imminent ban on the use of single-use plastic (SUP) in India.
- Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced the intent of scrapping single-use plastics during his Independence Day speech.
What is Single-Use Plastic?
- Often referred as disposable plastics, they are commonly used for packaging and include items intended to be used only once before they are thrown away or recycled.
- These include grocery bags, food packaging, bottles, straws, containers, cups and cutlery.
- Plastic packaging is mostly single-use, especially in business-to-consumer applications, and a majority of it is discarded the same year it is produced.
Need for the Ban
- Disposable plastics have the “lowest recyclability” and “highest harm factor”.
- They are the least biodegradable and have lowest possibility of being reconverted.
- It can take up to thousands of years for plastic bags and Styrofoam containers to decompose.
- In the meantime, it contaminates the soil and water.
- The toxic chemicals used to manufacture plastic get transferred to animal tissue, eventually entering the human food chain.
- Styrofoam products are toxic if ingested and can damage nervous systems, lungs and reproductive organs.
Why is it difficult to ban single-use plastics?
- By and large, the alternative materials to replace single-use plastic are either not in place or not available at scale.
- Banning things without a viable alternative will make the situation worse.
- For example, Polystyrene or thermocol is a highly damaging single-use plastic but it has virtually no alternative.
- Officials are trying to have a legal definition of what is single-use plastic.
- In 2018, the Chemical and Fertilisers Ministry formed a committee to define single-use plastic. However, its conclusions never found its way into any statute.
- Plastic Waste Management Rules 2016 was an attempt to improve legislation.
- It states that every local body has to be responsible for setting up infrastructure for segregation, collection, processing and disposal of plastic waste.
- The rules, amended in 2018, introduced the concept of extended producer responsibility, according to which the producers (manufacturers, importers and those using plastic in packaging) as well as brand owners would be held responsible for collecting the waste their products generate.
- The State Pollution Control Boards as well municipalities have the responsibility to ensure that plastic waste is collected and sent to recycling units.
India & Plastic Waste Generation
- Compared to other countries such as the U.S. and China, India has very low per capita generation of plastic waste.
- India generates close to 26,000 tonnes of plastic a day, according to a CPCB estimate from 2012.
- However, in real terms, this is quite substantial and nearly 10,000 tonnes of plastic waste is left uncollected every day.
India’s Commitment to reduce SUP
- India has a long-standing commitment to eliminate the use of single-use plastic (SUP) by 2022.
- A resolution moved by India at the United Nations Environment Assembly to eliminate SUP by 2025 was defeated with the final text of the agreement only committing to the “significantly reduced use” of SUP by 2030.
- Plastic users should be provided with feasible alternatives, which are not costly and made aware of these options.
- Industry should also be pushed to work on R&D to work on packaging alternatives, provided with time to work on this and given targets to phase out different types of plastic.
- Rather than a sudden blanket ban, Government should focus on phasing out single-use plastic according to whether these are high priority items that need to be replaced immediately, items for which alternatives are available or items that require more time to be phased out.