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The recent “Plastic Waste Management Amendment Rules, 2021”  issued by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has garnered mixed reactions from industrialists and general public. Let’s have a look from a wider perspective and know why it should be a welcome move.

What is the “Plastic Waste Management Amendment Rules, 2021”?

It is a move to phase-out single-use plastic items, with insignificant requirement but high cluttering potential, by 2022. According to the new rules, the single-use plastics such as plastic flags, candy sticks, plastic cutlery like spoons, forks, knives, glasses, straw, trays, gift wrapping or packing films around sweet boxes, invitation cards, ear buds with plastic sticks, Thermocol for decoration purposes, PVC banners less than 100 micron, etc. would be banned by 1st July 2022. Also, the thickness of light-weight plastic carry bag to be increased from 50 microns to 75 microns w.e.f. 30th September 2021 and eventually to 125 microns w.e.f. December 2022 in order to curb littering and allow reuse.

What was the necessity for this amendment?

The single-use plastics are a conspicuous example of issues arising due to the increased throw-away culture we have adopted resulting in accumulated waste generation at a staggering rate. With lowest annual average per capita consumption of plastic at 11 kg when compared to global average of 28kg, India generates approx. 26k tons of plastic waste daily, out of which 10k tons remains uncollected and forms part of the litter at precipitous environmental cost (2015 CPCB report). It is alarming that more than 90 percent of the plastic waste generated either forms part of the landfills or oceans.

Ironically, plastic is non-biodegradable and breaks into tiny pieces called micro-plastics. These micro-plastics eventually end up in soil and water, being consumed by wildlife, street animals and even inside our bodies leading to fatal consequences such as organ damage, intestinal blockage, hormonal imbalances, infertility, cancer, etc. Plastic waste is also responsible for the death of millions of sea birds and marine animals. The consumption of seafood with these micro-plastics that are present in the animal’s guts undoubtedly has adverse health implications.

Gaps to be bridged

●      The per capita rate of plastic waste generated needs to be calculated since in the 2015 CPCB report only 60 cities were included, whereas plastic products are being extensively used not only in the cities, but in small towns and villages too. The population increase and consumerism over the past 6 years has definitely added to the plastic waste burden for which accurate data is not available. Thus, new statistics for management and generation of plastic waste in the country are need of the hour for formulating better management strategies. In this endeavor, a fresh study must be conducted in every city through a standard SOP.

●      The new rules are not for compostable items in the country. Ironically, we lack rules or standards, or logos in our country to identify or differentiate between non compostable and compostable plastic. Some manufacturers are making use of this gap and selling non – compostable plastic in the name of compostable.

The way forward!

The gravity of pollution caused by single-use plastic articles in our daily lives, particularly those that have no utility beyond a few minutes or hours is undeniable and needs to be handled at administrative, industrial and individual level.

All industries and activities which can utilize plastic waste shall work in cyclic loop or chain to utilize the plastic waste as raw material in an organised manner. For this, all industrial policies and environment policies of these industries should be amended accordingly.

• It has been five years now, since 2016 and still implementation of EPR is a challenge as brand owners, consumers, recyclers and regulatory authorities are not aware and ignoring their responsibilities. Thus, firstly it should be implemented in words and spirit.

• Secondly, it should be a mandate for all private and Govt. organisations to find ways to reduce use of plastic, otherwise a plastic tax must be charged.

• Thirdly, all the brand owners and manufacturers should fulfil their responsibility for managing their plastic packaging material so that they can continue to use plastic for packaging; otherwise, they will have to find alternative ways for packaging, which can be costlier affair.

• Last but not least, plastic waste can be managed only when every consumer understands and pledges to segregate all plastic thrown as waste and not mix it with food waste. So, as responsible citizens, let’s revert to a few of the conventional environmentally-sustainable ways of living such as carrying reusable shopping bags, cooking at home to reduce use of takeout containers, use of reusable water bottles, reusable utensils, etc.

Let’s join hands to contribute to a greener, cleaner and eco-friendly environment by taking a pledge to phase-out single-use plastics from our lives through Reduce, Reuse and Recycle approach.