The gaps in the plan to tackle plastic waste

News: Recently, the Environment Ministry published draft regulations on Extended Producer Responsibility. It is set to come into effect by the end of this year.

What is Extended Producer Responsibility?

EPR requires the manufacturer of a product, or the party that introduces the product into the community, to take responsibility for its life cycle. It mandates the FMCG company to account for the costs of collection and recycling of the packet.

What are the issues with the recently notified draft regulations on Extended Producer Responsibility?

The guidelines fall short in three areas i.e., people, plastics and processing

Disregards the contribution made by Waste pickers: The guidelines fails to mention waste pickers or outlining mechanisms for their incorporation under EPR, despite their significance.

It directs producers to set up a private, parallel plastic waste collection and recycling chain. This amounts to dispossessing waste pickers of their means of livelihood.

Issues in Plastic management norms: The EPR guidelines are limited to plastic packaging. Multi-layered and multi-material that includes plastic items like sanitary pads, chappals, etc, pose a huge waste management challenge today, but have been left out of the scope of EPR.

Issues in processing of waste: Despite the harmful impacts of end-of-life processing technologies, the draft regulations legitimise them to justify the continued production of multi-layered plastics. For instance, a number of gasification, pyrolysis and other chemical recycling projects have figured in accidents such as fires, explosions and financial losses.

Further, recycling processes like waste-to-energy, co-processing and incineration have been proven to release carbon dioxide, particulate matter, harmful dioxins and furans that have negative climate and health impacts.

How recycling of plastic packaging can be made more effective?

Plastic packaging can be roughly grouped into three categories.

First category plastics: Recyclable and effectively handled by the informal sector. Ex – PET and HDPE

Second category plastics: Technologically recyclable but not economically viable to recycle. Ex- LDPE and PP bags.

Third category plastics:  Technologically challenging to recycle. Ex – Multi-layered and multi-material plastics

In the First category plastics, the government need to support and strengthen the informal recycling chain by bridging gaps in adequate physical spaces, infrastructure, etc.

In the Second category plastics, the costs of recycling are prohibitively expensive relative to the market value of the output. So, there is a need to make it economically viable.

It can be done by increasing the market value for these plastics by increasing the demand for and use of recycled plastics in packaging.

In the third category plastics, the Plastic Waste Management Rules mandated the phase-out of these plastics. However, in 2018, this mandate was reversed which needs to be undone.

What is the way forward?

First, an effective EPR framework should address the issue of plastics and plastic waste management in tandem with the existing machinery. It should aim to minimise duplication and lead to a positive environmental impact, with monitoring mechanisms including penalties for non-compliance.

Second, the scope of plastics covered by the guidelines could be altered to exclude those plastics which are already efficiently recycled and to include other plastic and multi-material items.

Third, end-of-life processing technologies should be closely evaluated, based on their health and environmental impacts, and on the implications for continued production of low-quality and multi-layered plastics.

Source: This post is based on the article “The gaps in the plan to tackle plastic waste” published in The Hindu on 28th Dec 2021.

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