Plastic Waste Management (Amendment) Rules, 2022 – Explained, pointwise

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Introduction

Plastic waste management is becoming a challenging task for countries across the globe and India is no exception to it. The use of plastic is on rise while its disposal and safe management hasn’t been commensurate with increased usage. This has resulted in creation of landfills on land and garbage patches in oceans. India has been actively taking steps to effectively manage the plastic waste as seen by frequent amendments to the Plastic Waste Management Rules. The Ministry of Environment has now launched new rules called the Plastic Waste Management (Amendment) Rules, 2022. 

What is the extent of plastic use in India?

India is one of the world’s largest producers, importers and consumers of plastic material, a sizable part of which is utilized for packaging. A Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) report (2018-19) puts the total annual plastic waste generation in India at 3.3 million metric tonnes

This use of plastic is believed to have gone up substantially during the COVID-19 pandemic because of the surge in online shopping. Consequently, the share of plastics in the municipal waste is reckoned to have spurted from around 10% earlier to close to 20% now. 

The worrisome part is that over 40% of the total plastic consumption is in the form of single-use items, including the plastic carry-bags. These have limited-period utility but high littering potential.

Types of Plastics and Uses

Source: NITI Aayog-UNDP Handbook on Plastic Waste Management

What is the meaning of Plastic Waste Management?

It refers to managing the plastic waste generated and processing it to make it reusable.  The characteristic activities of waste management include: (a) Collection, transport, treatment and disposal of waste, (b) Control, monitoring and regulation of the production, collection, transport, treatment and disposal of waste, and (c) Prevention of waste production through in—process modifications, reuse and recycling.

What are the new Plastic Waste Management Rules?

Classification of Plastics: The new rules classify plastics into three categories: (a) Category One will include rigid plastic packaging; (b) Category Two will include flexible plastic packaging of single layer or multilayer (more than one layer with different types of plastic), plastic sheets, carry bags, plastic sachet or pouches; (c) Category Three will include Multi-layered plastic packaging (at least one layer of plastic and at least one layer of material other than plastic).

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR): It covers reuse, recycling, use of recycled plastic content and end of life disposal by producers, importers and brand-owners. The term simply means the responsibility of a producer for the environmentally sound management of the product until the end of its life.

Extended Producer Responsibility under the Plastic Waste Management Rules

Source: NITI Aayog UNDP Handbook on Plastic Waste Management

Centralized Online Portal: It calls for creating a centralized online portal by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB). It will be used for the registration as well as filing of annual returns by producers, importers and brand-owners.

Environmental compensation: It shall be levied based upon polluter pays principle, with respect to non-fulfilment of EPR targets by producers, importers and brand owners. However payment of compensation will not absolve the liability and unfulfilled EPR obligations for a particular year will be carried forward to the next year for a period of three years.

Committee creation: It will be constituted by the CPCB under the chairmanship of CPCB chairman. It would recommend measures to the ministry for effective implementation of EPR, including amendments to Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) guidelines.

Extended Producer Responsibility Certificates: The guidelines allow for sale and purchase of surplus extended producer responsibility certificates.

What are the earlier rules on Plastic Waste Management?

Plastic-waste management rules, 1999: Its aim was to restrict the use of plastic carry bags (thickness 20 µm or less) and prevent food from being packaged in recycled plastic.

Plastic Waste Management (Amendment) Rules, 2003: It diluted the restriction on carry bags but mandated registration of manufacturing units with regional pollution control authorities.

Plastic Waste Management (Amendment) Rules, 2011: For the first time, there was a national law proposing a ban on the use of plastic materials in sachets to store, pack or sell gutkha, tobacco, and pan masala.

Plastic Waste Management (PWM) Rules, 2016: It included many progressive propositions, like ‘polluter pays’ and ‘extended producer responsibility’.

Plastic Waste Management (Amendment) Rules, 2021: The rules aim to prohibit the use of specific single-use plastic items, which have “low utility and high littering potential” by 2022.

What is the significance of the new rules?

Manage High Usage: India has more than 1.3 billion people whose plastic usage has witnessed a considerable rise in the pandemic times. New rules will help manage the increasing demand of plastic and result in decreasing plastic pollution.  

Circular Economy: The rules seem to evolve a circular economy in the plastics sector by encouraging recycling, sharing, leasing, trading and safe disposal of the end-of-life plastic materials.

Circular Economy Definition NITI Aayog Plastic Waste Management.                      Circular Economy Visual and Plastic Waste Management representation

Source: NITI Aayog UNDP Handbook on Plastic Waste Management

Domestic Targets: It would help the Government meet its targets in a more effective way e.g., the latest deadline for eliminating the single-use plastic waste is July 2022.

Ease of Trading: These norms seek to create a market for the sale, purchase and sharing of EPR compliance certificates on the lines of the carbon trading mechanism for mitigating climate change.

Substitute promotion: The enhanced penalties and stricter norms would induce the manufacturers to shift to more environmentally friendly alternatives like jute

Landfill Reduction: The country is witnessing a rise in landfill creation especially across major cities like Delhi, Mumbai etc. The Ghazipur landfill in Delhi is soon expected to surpass the height of Qutub Minar. The promising provisions of new rules will reduce their creation. 

What are the associated challenges?

Poor track records: The success would rely largely on how effectively these norms are governed by the Central and State Pollution Control Boards whose past records in plastic waste management are quite uninspiring. This is testified by frequent violation of plastic rules in major cities like Delhi, Bengaluru etc. 

Corruption: The prevalence of corruption impedes the effective implementation of rules and fails to create a substantial deterrence on violators. India’s rank has slipped six places to 86th among 180 countries in Corruption Perception Index (CPI) 2020.

Rigid Behavior: The rules calls for limiting plastic usage but the mass inclination towards it can’t be easily reduced owing to its cheap price and non availability of cost effective alternatives. 

Informalized Structure of waste collection: This inhibits a strong linkage between waste collectors and processing plants.

No global law or convention: There is currently no dedicated international instrument in place designed specifically to prevent plastic pollution throughout the entire plastics lifecycle.

What are the remedial measures?

First, the Government should support the creation of sustainable bioplastics. These plastics can be decomposed by the action of living organisms, usually microbes, into the water, carbon dioxide, and biomass. 

Second, the masses should be sensitized over adverse impacts of plastic use by collaborating with NGOs like Greenpeace India. They must be encouraged to adopt the notion of 3R’s – reduce, reuse and recycle plastic by inculcating green intelligence in them.

Third, the Government should provide sustained employment opportunities to rag pickers by giving them green jobs. This would significantly improve processing of plastic waste in the country and reduce creation of landfills.

Fourth, an independent environment regulator as envisaged by the Supreme Court should be created to oversee prudent implementation of the new rules.

Fifth, the countries must cooperate to draft a dedicated global law as isolated domestic acts can’t fully tackle the problem of plastic waste management.

Conclusion

Plastic was considered a miracle material, as its synthetic polymers give it astonishing durability. However today it is filling up our oceans and destroying marine life and even invading our food chain to get into our bodies. The menace posed by it needs to be tackled by ensuring robust plastic waste management and promoting the use of alternatives.

Source: Business Standard

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