The Central Pollution Control Board states that India generates around 26,000 tonnes of plastics every day from urban areas. It also reports that plastic waste on average accounts for 6.92% of municipal solid waste. About 40% of this plastic waste remains uncollected.
The problem that we have at hand
Today, plastic waste is standing as one of the most formidable challenges for India and the world. According to a recent background paper on plastic waste and its management by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), 79% of the plastic made in the world enters India’s land, water, and the environment as waste. This dumping is creating a massive issue for the urban centers in the country. The Central Pollution Control Board states that India generates around 26,000 tonnes of plastics every day from urban areas. It also reports that plastic waste on average accounts for 6.92% of municipal solid waste. About 40% of this plastic waste remains uncollected. The report states that nearly one-sixth of the total plastic waste is generated by 60 major cities. Cities including Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata, Mumbai and Bengaluru together generate more than 50% of the total plastic waste. The average plastic waste generation is around 6.92% of the total municipal solid waste in the country. It varies from 3.1% in Chandigarh to 12.4% in Surat. Plastic waste is over 10% of total municipal solid waste in Delhi, over 9% in Chennai and over 6% in Mumbai.
In India, the informal sector plays an important role in the management of plastic waste. Most of the plastic recycling takes place in this informal sector, providing livelihood to many. The informal sector is often seen to have little regard for worker safety and environmental protection. This happens with very minimal regulation and monitoring practices. According to the World Economic Forum, it is estimated that there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050. In India, unmanaged plastic waste is causing detrimental impacts on the Indian metropolis. The majority of plastic waste, about 6,100 tonnes in India, is dumped into landfills. Plastic toxins from the litter waste seep into the groundwater and the chemical released affects soil fertility and water bodies. The toxic emissions and foul gases from landfills pollute the environment and lead to adverse effects on human health. In addition to this, the open burning of plastic seeps into the toxic chemicals, which get deposited on soil, surface water and plants. With plastics being concentrated in the marine ecosystem, the toxins in microplastics affect health and also cause problems like asthma, cancer, congenital disabilities, genetic changes, chronic bronchitis, ulcers, skin diseases and liver dysfunction.
The menace of this uncollected 40% plastic waste is attributed to the gaps in plastic waste management infrastructure. This is despite the fact that around 94% of total plastic waste is thermoplastic which is recyclable like Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and Polyvinyl chloride (PVC).
At the UN World Environment Day 2018, Honorable Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi spoke on the theme of ‘Beat Plastic Pollution’ and said that the choices that we make today will define our collective future. Being the host nation at the event and by announcing plans to eradicate single-use plastics from the country by 2022, India is already in its way contributing to the global movement against plastic use. The Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016 by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, mandated the generators of waste to take steps to minimize generation of plastic waste, not litter it, ensure segregated storage of waste at source and handover segregated waste to local bodies or agencies authorized by the local bodies. It also made it the primary responsibility of producers, importers and brand owners (PIBOs) to collect used a multi-layered plastic sheet, pouches, and packaging material introduced by them into the market under Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR).
The concept of EPR is based on the premise of making the PIBOs accountable albeit voluntarily. The rules define not just the responsibility but the EPR of the producer, as the environmentally sound management of the product until the end of its life. However, by March 14, 2019, only 49 brand owners and two producers of plastic had registered under EPR and submitted an EPR plan with CPCB and only 14 of 35 regional pollution boards (SPCBs) had filed information on plastic waste management for 2017-18. Following this, a new mechanism to meet EPR compliance was issued in June 2020 allowing PIBOs to buy credits from a system that would be established to offset the plastic waste they generate.
The plastic credit model
A plastic recycling model that ensures effective compliance with the EPR mandate is the plastic credit model. This model is envisaged where a producer is not required to recycle their own packaging, but to ensure that an equivalent amount of packaging waste has been recovered and recycled to meet their obligation. However, producers are mandated to acquire evidence of recycling or recovery from properly accredited processors like recyclers, W2E plant operators, cement co-processors, users utilizing plastic in the road, or exporters.
The producers can exchange credits from processors that have been specifically accredited for this purpose and through registration at the EPR portal. The credits are offered in the form of a plastic credit certificate based on the amount of plastic waste recycled, to acknowledge their contribution to waste management. An obligated producer, importer or brand owner, can acquire a plastic credit certificate for the desired quantity of recycled plastic waste directly from a network of verified sellers to offset their EPR obligations set under the PWMR. This certificate ensures that the plastic waste is ethically collected, transported and put to end of life while also ensuring that the monetary benefit is realized by the unprivileged recycling sector.
The model also aims to formalize the recycling sector by offering higher monetary benefits to waste management agencies and recyclers that have adapted the plastic credit model. This model carries the potential to transform urban landscapes in India by providing stability and scalability to waste management agencies, which will accelerate recycling activities. Moreover, the PWMR mandated plastic producers to offset their obligation by getting a recycler within the geography where their product is sold within the same month. This will benefit the local biodiversity as well as the people involved in the recycling chain.
We have an opportunity to make a difference
It is an opportunity for both PIBOs and recyclers to optimize the credit system in which producers are not required to manage their plastic waste but get the equivalent amount of plastic recovered and recycled through an accredited waste management agency. With an increased awareness level at both the consumer and manufacturer front, the model can surely be a successful approach.
As per a Statista report, plastic waste generation is expected to increase to 31.4 million tonnes by 2031 and further to 55 million tonnes by 2041, thus pressing on the urgent need to address the concerns from the growing plastic waste in India. The plastic credit has the potential to solve the larger systemic issue at play, a linear economy that has created an unchecked system of production and consumption. It will not only support cities to manage waste efficiently but will also uplift their social and economic fabric. This in turn will formalize, refine and strengthen the plastic recycling infrastructure in India.
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