Plastic Pollution in India: An Overview

Mains Test Series


  • Recently in Maharashtra, a state-wide ban on plastic products came into effect

What are plastics?

  • Plastics are non-biodegradable, synthetic polymers.
  • They are made-up of long chain hydrocarbons with additives and can be moulded into finished products.
  • These polymers are broken into monomers such as ethylene, propylene, vinyl, styrene and benzene etc.
  • Finally these monomers are chemically polymerized into different categories of plastics.

Categories of plastics:

  1. Recyclable Plastics: Example: PET, HDPE, LDPE, PP, PVC, PS, etc
  2. Non Recyclable plastic: Example: Multilayer & Laminated Plastics, Nylon etc

Plastic Pollution in India: Fast Facts

  1. Size of plastic industry: Rs. 110,000 crore
  2. Of companies/ units: 30,000 employing about 4 million people
  3. Plastic Consumption: 13 million tonnes/ year
  4. Average Per capita plastic consumption:
  • About 11kg- low as compared to the global average of 28kg
  • An estimate by the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, Government of India suggests that the annual per capita consumption in India would be 20 kg by 2022
  1. Waste generated: 16 lakh tonnes/ year
  2. Amount of plastic waste recycled: 60%


Micro-plastic Pollution:

  • Microplastics are plastics which are less than five mm in diameter in size.
  • Sources: cosmetics, clothing and industrial processes

  • Impact:
  1. The ingestion of microplastics is very dangerous for humans as these substances contain high concentrations of toxic chemicals such as polychlorinated biphenyls
  2. Major threat to oceans- According to a 2017 International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) report, microplastics are estimated to constitute up to 30% of marine litter polluting the oceans

Presence in India:

  1. According to a study, Juhu Beach recorded the highest quantity of microplastics (55.3%), followed by Versova, Dadar and Aksa
  2. Microplastics were found extensively in Vembanad Lake, Kerala

Impact of Plastic Pollution

  1. Land: hazardous chemicals in plastic degrade land and makes soil infertile. Plastic waste has resulted in destruction and decline in quality of land in terms of use and ability to support life forms.
  2. Water:

a) Surface water: Hazardous plastic chemicals contaminate water. Further, it has far reaching consequences on aquatic (marine and freshwater) life forms.

b) Groundwater: When plastics are dumped in landfills, the hazardous chemicals present in them seep underground when it rains. The chemicals and toxic elements infiltrate into the aquifers and pollute groundwater

3. Air: Burning of plastics generates toxic emissions such as Carbon Monoxide, Chlorine, and Nitrides etc.

4. Wildlife:

  • Entanglement of wildlife in plastics- Major sources of the plastic responsible for entanglement are abandoned or lost fishing nets and pots, plastic packing loops, and plastic rope
  • Ingestion of plastic: It can cause blockage of digestive tract, internal injuries and are fatal for wildlife
  • Further, when the smaller animals are intoxicated by ingesting plastic, they are passed on to the larger animals along the food chain

5. Human Health: Harmful chemical in plastics lead to reproductive abnormalities, disruption in endocrine system, neurological diseases, respiratory diseases, cancer and birth defects

6. Drainage: Plastic bags choke storm water drains and underground drainage and can lead to flooding during heavy rains


Plastic Waste Management Rules (PWR), 2011:

  • It was introduced under the Environment Protection Act, 1986.
  • The rules established a framework which assigned responsibilities for plastic waste management to the urban local bodies

Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016

  • The rules offer directives to urban local bodies and Gram Panchayats on segregation, collection, transportation, processing and disposal of plastic waste in their areas of jurisdiction

Important features:

  • Ambit of the rules extended to rural areas; responsibilities entrusted upon Gram Panchayats
  • Calls for ban on plastic bags below 50 micron thickness
  • Phasing out (within 2 years) of manufacture and sale of non-recyclable multi-layered plastic (example: chips packets)
  • Introduction of collect back system of plastic waste by the producers/brand owners, as per Extended Producers Responsibility
  • Extended Producer’s Responsibility (EPR) – Responsibility of collection of used plastics and multilayered plastics entrusted upon producers, importers and brand owners
  • Segregation of waste by waste generator; waste generators to pay user free
  • Every vendor, who sells commodities in a carry bag, to register with their respective urban local body and pay a minimum fee of Rs 48,000/annum- Explicit pricing on carry bags
  • Promote use of plastic waste in road construction


Plastic Waste Management (Amendment) Rules, 2018

  1. Recommends a central registration system for the registration of the producer, importer or brand owner.
  2. Recommends a national registry for producers with presence in more than two states, a state-level registration for producers operating within one or two states
  3. Rule related to explicit pricing of carry bags has been removed

State Legislations banning the use of Plastic bags

  • Maharashtra, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Rajasthan, Sikkim, Tripura, Delhi and Chandigarh have enacted total bans on plastic bags.
  • Gujarat, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Odhisa, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal have enacted partial bans


  • In March 2018, the state government issued Maharashtra Plastic and Thermocol Products (manufacture, usage, sale, transport, handling, and storage) notification
  • The government had given the manufacturers, distributors, and consumers a period of three months to dispose their existing stock and come up with alternatives to plastic usage.
  • The ban came into effect on 25th June 2018

Penalty for Violating Ban (applicable from 25th June 2018):

  • 5000 for first time violation
  • 10000 for second time violation
  • 25,000 with three months jail term for third time violation

Tamil Nadu:

  • Tamil Nadu has proposed a ban on manufacturing, storage and use of plastic products (except packing material for milk, curd, oil and medical products) from January 1st 2019

Issues with Plastic Waste Management

  1. Banning:
  • Banning of plastic use has been of limited success.
  • Primary reasons include lack of citizen awareness and poor implementation of rules.
  • Further, the mobility of plastic waste makes state-wise bans difficult to implement
  1. Waste Segregation:
  • Plastic waste is not properly separated at the source. Recyclability of plastic decreases when mixed with organic or sanitary matter.
  • According to CPCB report, Indian generates 16 lakh tonnes of plastic waste annually. India can earn a revenue of Rs. 5600 crore annually by selling this waste at the global average rate of 50cent/kg. However, the economic benefit from recycling plastic has not been reaped.
  • Most of the cities lack a processing plant with a sanitary landfill sit. They follow crude methods of waste dumping such as land filling of mixed waste
  1. Recycling and associated issues:
  • Only 60% of the total plastic waste generated is recycled
  • There is a lack of recycling centres in most of the parts. Further, recycling in rural areas is a major challenge. Most waste processing and recycling facilities are located in urban areas
  1. Issue with EPR:
  • There are no specific targets for producers, importers and brand owners
  • At present, EPR obligations are largely being met on a sporadic and scattered basis.
  • Indian companies do not have plan for waste collection system to be done through own distribution channel or local bodies.
  • The reason cited is complex nature of plastic waste: ubiquitous and not possible for concerned company to collect its packages only.
  1. Lack of alternatives:
  • The price of biodegradable plastic products is higher than their synthetic plastic counterparts
  • A lack of affordable alternatives has been detrimental in implementing ban on plastic use.
  • The recent state-wide plastic ban in Maharashtra has faced criticisms from commercial bodies. They argue that a complete ban on plastics in the absence of affordable alternative is not a feasible option

International Best Practices:


  • In 2016, France legislated ban on all disposable daily-use plastics including cutlery and bags.
  • It prescribed a phase-out for these plastic goods by 2020.
  • Suggested replacements for these products made of biologically sourced materials.


  • In 2008, China made it illegal for vendors to give out plastic bags for free. This has led to a drop in their usage by roughly 50% in two years
  • China has announced a ban on import of waste from EU nations and the US. Previously, China imported around 50 million tonnes of waste annually, including plastics, paper and textiles. However, burning of wastes to generate energy polluted air.

Suggested Measures:

  1. For a robust plastic waste management system, a network of collection and recycling centres is a prerequisite. Ubiquitous recycling centres has been a major factor in developing an efficient waste management in Sweden
  2. EPR:
  • Targets must be issued by central or state bodies for plastic producers and manufacturers to collect and recycle minimum proportions of their contributed waste
  • Companies to be made accountable for their social and environmental responsibilities
  • Collective implementation of EPR- Zones can be demarcated and companies together manage wastes in their designated zones. This is also economical as it reduces collection, transportation and recycling costs.
  • Example: In Switzerland, a similar strategy was adopted to recycle thermocol used in insulating buildings.
Best Practice:

In Europe, plastic-generating corporations establish Producer Responsibility Organisations (PRO) which come together to collect waste from the consumers.


  1. Alternatives:
  • There should be research and funding to develop and promote innovative biodegradable products as affordable alternatives to plastic
  • Strategies should focus on marketing these products and the development of sustainable business models.
  1. Waste Segregation: Waste segregation should be made mandatory
  2. Develop Innovative means to encourage recycling and reap economic benefit. Example: A Canadian company has plastic collection centres, where waste can be exchanged for many things (e.g. for medical insurance, cooking fuel)
  3. Citizens should be made aware of impact of plastic pollution and waste disposal issues.

Example: District administration of Kannur initiated a plastic-free campaign with the objective of discouraging the use of plastic carry bags and disposable items. It has become the India’s first plastic-free district

  1. Effective implementation of rules; collection of fines
  2. Reduction and gradually phasing out plastic consumption
  3. International collaboration to combat plastic pollution. Recently, India hosted the 2018 World Environment Day (5th June); the theme of which was “Beat Plastic Pollution”
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