India’s new plastic management rules go soft on industry, betray environment

PLASTIC WASTE MANAGEMENT

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Our cities are all flooded with huge piles of mixed waste, almost inevitably dominated by plastic in some form or the other. Pic: Shree D N

With an amendment that, according to environmentalists, would degrade the environment further and protect the interests of Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) companies, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) notified the new Plastic Waste Management (Amendment) Rules, 2018.

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The new rules, an amended version of the environment friendly Plastic Waste Management Rules 2016, contain new clauses that benefit industries manufacturing and using plastic.

Here is a brief explainer about some of these rules and their implications for the environment and public health.

Energy recovering possible in India?

While the 2016 rules mandated the usage of only such Multi Layered Plastic (MLP) as can be recycled, the 2018 rules have substituted it with ‘energy recoverable’ and those amenable to ‘alternate use.’

According to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), MLPs have plastic as the main ingredient in at least one layer, in combination with one or more layers of other materials such as paper, paper board, polymeric material, metallized layers or aluminium foil.

For the layman, MLPs are those which are used in the fast moving consumer goods industry most commonly in biscuit packets, tetra packs and such packaging. The 2016 rules, though not effectively implemented everywhere had vigilant provisions at least, as it allowed only recyclable multi-layered plastic. “This (the current amendment) gives plastic producers a scope to argue that their products can be put to some other use, if not recycled. This move tantamounts to revoking a complete ban, which it had implied earlier. This type of plastic was supposed to be banned by March 2018, but it is nowhere near a phase-out,” writes Richa Agarwal for Down To Earth magazine.

According to the gazette notification from the government of India, energy recovery means conversion of waste into usable heat, electricity or fuel through a variety of processes including combustion and gasification. Burning of MLPs even through scientific procedures is not advisable as it omits harmful toxins, that affects environment and public health. But that aside, energy conversion in itself would be a difficult task in a country that has still not got the basics of waste management in place: segregation.

“At a time when western countries are chasing out energy conversion of plastic, why is India embracing it? Reputed organisations like International Solid Waste Association has ruled out the process, especially for Asian countries (including India), as our waste is high in moisture due to ineffective segregation. Incinerators cannot handle it,” says Dharmesh Shah of Gaia, an organisation working on zero waste in Chennai. He added that MLP usage would also accentuate marine pollution in India.

Sale of plastic is easy now

Rule 15 (Explicit pricing of carrying bags) of the Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016, which was envisaged to play a key role in discouraging plastic usage, has been omitted in the amendment. As per Rule 15, every vendor, who sold commodities in a carry bag would have to register with their respective urban local body and pay a minimum fee of Rs 48,000 per annum (4000/month) after the announcement of the bye-laws. The seller could charge the consumer for the price of a plastic cover.

“Since the provision has been omitted, there will be an easy flow of plastic bags into the market. It is the explicit pricing of plastic that led many to carry their own bags to a shopping mall or a market,” says Rashmi S, a Mumbai-based environmentalist, who advocates for a ‘no-plastic’ society.

Killing an effective law

Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016, was globally acclaimed for incorporating stringent rules to curb plastic pollution. “The laws in the 2016 rules were solid. Though it was not implemented universally at the ground level, citizens could have petitioned the National Green Tribunal using the provisions in case of observed violations. That hope has now been killed,” said Dharmesh Shah.

“Industry gets an upper hand in the amended law.The 2016 rules were bound to have economic repercussions for those industries. Now, to the benefit of the companies, environment has been put at stake,” he added.

“The 2018 amendment doesn’t explain the concept of Extended Producer Responsibility. Even with plastic being a major concern worldwide, this amendment gives no direction on the principles of its minimisation, switching to alternatives and reduction,” says Swati Singh Sambyal, Programme Manager, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), New Delhi.

By making the legislation weaker, the amendment is thus likely to only escalate the gravity of the environmental crisis surfacing in India.


About Laasya Shekhar 4 Articles
Laasya Shekhar is Senior Reporter at Citizen Matters Chennai. She tweets at @plaasya.

2 Comments

  1. It appears that Govt. is completely ignoring the compostable and biodegradable alternate solutions that are available globally for thin film packaging solutions. By pushing the FMCG companies for compostable packaging solutions, the Govt. could have addressed dual concerns together. One of collection of waste and second, recycling the same.
    This is more so relevant for countries like India, where effective collection of waste from the Rural and semi-urban areas remain a great challenge.

    Usage of plastic film in small disposable sachets (shampoo, etc…) and over-wraps (Cigarette, etc..) should be immediately banned and should be pushed for compostable (and biodegradable) packaging solutions.

    I hope someone would sound the same to the ministry to incorporate the same in the future amendments.

  2. I think more thought must have been given before dismissing the amendments as just favourable to industry.

    1. Anyway there is no recycling done as far I know with most plastic only packaging too. The only option seems to be incineration or moving away. Even some of the thick plastics covers that are recycled too is recyclable only once or twice. So recycling plastics is not a silver bullet. In that case our opposition must be for all plastic packaging and not just MLP. Is there a solution in sight? To have all reusable packaging or no small packaging at all is the right question to ask?

    2. Regarding removal explicit pricing. I think thats a logical step too. Or stores which are already considering plastic carry bags as revenue making and happily continuing it without giving alternatives like cloth bags. If monthly fee is charged they will not care about it as the price for bags collected will offset their fees. If thats removed lots of concerns will consider moving away from plastic carry bags for saving the big user fee (quite hefty I think). So its a well thought move in my opinion.

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