Picking out plastic waste

Kashmir Times. Dated: 7/16/2019 10:23:58 AM

Segregation and recycling needs to be combined for addressing the problems posed by plastic packaging material in India

The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) putting at least 52 producers, brand owners and importers including the big online retailers such as Amazon and Flipkart, and companies such Patanjali Ayurveda and Britannia on notice for failing to take responsibility for their plastic waste is a welcome step. But this notice needs to be backed up by an integral policy at the national level which addresses the problem created by generation of thousands of tons of plastic waste in the urban areas of the country. There have been half-hearted efforts in banning and putting out of circulation many polythene bags and plastic material used as packaging materials by many consumer goods manufacturers and brand owners. In fact, apart from the policy, there is a need for strict compliance for segregation and recycling of the plastic waste material in all the major urban centres across the country for tackling this problem, which has become a nuisance. It is unfortunate that this problem is also threatening various life forms in the oceans and water bodies as they have become soluble in fresh and static water bodies. The manufacturers and other entities with a large plastic footprint need to respond with alacrity. It is almost eight years since the concept of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) was incorporated into the Plastic Waste Management Rules, but municipal and pollution control authorities have failed to persuade commercial giants to put in place a system to collect and process the waste. Tighter rules in 2016 and some amendments two years later put the onus on producers and brand owners to come up with an action plan for the retrieval of waste within six months to a year, but that too failed to take off. Mountains of garbage with a heavy plastic load have been growing in suburban landfills, out of sight of city dwellers, despite objections from the rural population. The crisis is certain to worsen in the years to come as no policy implementation is being witnessed at any level. It should be noted that the retail sector expects e-commerce to grow from about US Dollar 38.5 billion-equivalent in 2017 to US Dollar 200 billion by 2026. Given the role played by packaging, the waste management problem is likely to assume alarming proportions if no corrective measures are initiated at this stage. There is also a big opportunity here, which the trade, municipal governments and pollution control authorities need to see. The two prongs of the solution are packaging innovation that reduces its use by using alternatives, and increasing waste segregation, collection and transmission at all levels.
Apart from this, there is need for recovering plastic waste materials from the garbage with an eye on the fact that India is the third largest consumer of materials after China and the US. Simultaneously, there is need to check manufacture and distribution of such materials in the country. The Economic Survey 2019 estimates that India's demand for total material will double by 2030 at current rates of growth. Plastics may be less expensive than other inputs in manufacturing, but recycling them into new products extends their life and provides a substitute for virgin material. Keeping the plastics out of the environment reduces clean-up and pollution costs. Sadly, in spite of legal requirements, municipal and pollution control authorities fail to see this and mostly pursue business-as-usual waste management methods. Recyclable waste is rendered useless when it gets mixed with other waste materials. Online retailers have not felt compelled to take back the thousands of polythene bags, plastic envelopes and air pillows used to cushion articles inside cardboard boxes. This is in contrast to more developed markets where they are trying out labels on packages with clear recycling instructions. These companies can form waste cooperatives in India, employing informal waste-pickers. In such a model, consumers will respond readily if they are provided incentives to return segregated plastic waste material. Making municipal and pollution control authorities accountable is also equally important. The Supreme Court notices to Deputy Commissioners in all the 30 states seeking their reply on implementation of rules for waste management have also failed to provide a solution to the problem.



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