Single-use plastic ban: Reading the fine print reveals ominous loopholes

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Source: Down to Earth


Relevance: New Plastic Waste Management Rules 2021 and issues associated with it

Synopsis: The recently announced Plastic Waste Management Rule 2021 prohibits 20 identified single-use plastic items by 2022 to tackle the issue of plastic pollution. However, civil societies have raised some concerns with the new provisions.

Must read: Beating plastic pollution
What is Single Use Plastic (SUP)?

Plastic Waste Management Amendment Rules, 2021 define SUP as “a plastic commodity intended to be used once for the same purpose before being disposed of or recycled”.

20 SUP items have been identified to be phased out on the recommendation of an expert group constituted by the Department of Chemicals and Petrochemicals (DCPC) under the direction of the Union Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers on SUP.

Single Use Plastic

Issues with the rules:
  • Selection of the items – Some of the items which are low on utility, but high environmental impact are left out of the rules, thus benefiting big corporations.
  • Discriminatory provisions– Schedule for phase out does not cover a range of SUPs generated by fast-moving consumer goods companies (FMCGs) such as cigarette filters, plastic water bottles etc. rather they impact MSME’s.
  • Plastic packaging waste outside the rules– Plastic packaging, which contributes to almost 60% of the total plastic waste generated, is not listed for being phased out.  It was proposed to be collected and managed in an environmentally sustainable way through the extended producer responsibility (EPR) according to the Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016. However, the EPR for plastic waste management remains only on paper, due to non-compliance by companies and weak enforcement by authorities.
  • Exemption of compostable plastic– Compostable plastic is exempted, but India does not have an existing labelling mechanism to differentiate fossil-based plastics from the compostable ones. This loophole could be misused to label 50-micron plastics as compostable.
  • Moratorium– Notification gives a 10-year moratorium to the plastic industry, rather than pushing the plastic industry to invest in relevant research and development and ensure use of recycled products in their non-food packaging applications.
  • Exemption to Multi-layer plastic (MLP)– The 2021 amendment have exempted MLP from the list of items to be phased out for another 10 year.
Global best practices:

Here are some global best practices regarding managment of plastic waste:

  • European Union– it has come up with a clear vision in the form of EU plastics strategy which gave the industry a three-year window till 2021 to phase out 10 identified SUP items
  • Israel– it has proposed to levy double purchase tax on SUP and disposable plastic ware. The move is expected to reduce usage by 41 per cent
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