[Answered] Describe the concept of Extended producer responsibility. How the new extended producer responsibility (EPR) guidelines aim to tackle plastic packaging waste in India.

Introduction: Define EPR.
Body: Explain benefits of EPR and how EPR is operationalized.  Explain how the New EPR guidelines aims to tackle plastic packaging waste in India.
Conclusion: Explaining the issues in new guidelines and provide a way forward.

Extended producer responsibility (EPR) is a critical policy mechanism that helps advance the circular economy, decreases the environmental impact from a product and its packaging. Furthermore, it promotes the principle of “polluter pays” by holding the producer accountable for the entire lifecycle of the product.

EPR is fulfilled by producers through reuse, buyback, or recycling discarded products. The producer also has the option of delegating this responsibility to a third-party which can be paid by the producer for used-product management. This shifts the responsibility for waste management from the government to private industries, making it easy for producers or sellers to internalize waste management and ensure the safe handling of their products.

Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has notified the Guidelines on Extended Producers Responsibility on plastic packaging under Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016, for reducing pollution caused due to plastic packaging waste in the country.

  • Strengthens circular economy: The Guidelines provide framework to strengthen circular economy of plastic packaging waste. Reuse of rigid plastic packaging material has been mandated in the guidelines to reduce the use of fresh plastic material for packaging.
  • Reduce Plastic consumption: guidelines prescribe minimum level of recycling of plastic packaging waste collected under EPR along with use of recycled plastic content. It will further reduce plastic consumption and support recycling of plastic packaging waste. Companies will have to collect at least 25% of the target in 2021-22, 70% by 2022-23 and 100% by 2024 and recycle 30% to 50% of waste by 2024-2025 and by 2027-28, 60%- 80% of waste, to be recycled.
  • Boost to formalization: The EPR guidelines will give a boost for formalization and further development of plastic waste management sector. The guidelines allow for sale and purchase of surplus extended producer responsibility certificates, thus setting up a market mechanism for plastic waste management.
  • Improve efficiency of EPR governance: The implementation of EPR will be done through a customized online platform which will act as digital backbone of the system. The online platform will allow tracking and monitoring of EPR obligation and will reduce the compliance burden for companies. In order to ensure monitoring on fulfilment of EPR obligations, the guidelines have prescribed a system of verification and audit of enterprises.
  • Enforcing polluter pays principle: The Guidelines prescribe a framework for levy of environmental compensation based upon polluter pays principle, for non-fulfilment of extended producer responsibility targets.

The latest new extended producer responsibility (EPR) guidelines are a step in the right direction for improving the accountability of producers and enforcement by authorities. However, informal sector’s waste recycling operations are unlicensed and unregulated and Compostable or biodegradable plastic are not under the ambit of new guidelines. These issues need to be addressed to fully achieve the targets of plastic waste management in India.

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