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Insights into Editorial: A plastic charter
Plastic pollution has become an epidemic. Every year, we throw away enough plastic to circle the Earth four times. Much of that waste doesn’t make it into a landfill, but instead ends up in our oceans, where it’s responsible for killing one million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals every year. For the good of the planet, it’s time to rethink how we use plastic.
Every piece of plastic ever disposed of (this includes the toothbrush your great-grandfather used) is damaging the earth. It’s lying somewhere in the earth, floating in the ocean, or been broken down into microparticles and in the food chain. Although a fraction of the plastic disposed of is recycled, most of it eventually ends up in the ocean or in dump sites outside city limits.
Common sources of Plastic pollution:
Merchant ships expel cargo, sewage, used medical equipment, and other types of waste that contain plastic into the ocean.
The largest ocean-based source of plastic pollution is discarded fishing gear (including traps and nets).
Continental plastic litter such as Food Wrappers & Containers, Bottles and container caps, Plastic bags, Straws and stirrers etc. enters the ocean largely through storm-water runoff.
Environment Ministry notifies Plastic Waste Management (amendment) rules in 2016:
The amended Rules lay down that the phasing out of Multilayered Plastic (MLP) is now applicable to MLP, which are “non-recyclable, or non-energy recoverable, or with no alternate use.”
- Prescribe a central registration system for the registration of the producer/importer/brand owner.
- Any mechanism for the registration should be automated and should take into account ease of doing business for producers, recyclers and manufacturers.
- The centralised registration system will be evolved by Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) for the registration of the producer/importer/brand owner.
- A National registry has been prescribed for producers with presence in more than two states
- A state-level registration has been prescribed for smaller producers/brand owners operating within one or two states
Rules to be followed to reduce Plastic usage:
India’s Plastic Waste Management Rules 2016 called for a ban on plastic bags below 50 micron thickness and a phasing out, within two years, of the manufacture and sale of non-recyclable, multi-layered plastic (plastic that snacks come in).
More than 20 Indian States have announced a ban on plastic bags. Cities such as Bengaluru announced a complete ban (gazette notification), in 2016, on the manufacture, supply, sale and use of thermocol and plastic items irrespective of thickness.
These include carry bags, banners, buntings, flex, flags, plates, clips, spoons, cling films and plastic sheets used while dining. The exceptions are plastic for export, packaging material for use in forestry, milk packets and hospitals. There are stiff fines that cover manufacturing and disposal.
We also need strategies to deal with the plastic that has already been disposed of. The CPCB report says that As mentioned in the Solid Waste Management Rules 2016, waste has to be segregated separately at source. This includes separation of dry (plastic, paper, metal, glass) and wet (kitchen and garden) waste at source.
The primary responsibility for collection of used plastic and multi-layered plastic sachets (branded chips, biscuit and snack packets) lies with their producers, importers and brand owners.
However, none of this has happened at any perceivable scale. Companies say that plastic waste is too complex or pretend to be completely unaware of these rules.
From pollution to solutions:
Admittedly, the complexity of dealing with plastic waste is because of its ubiquity and distributed market. Several companies produce the same type of packaging so it is impossible for a given company to collect and recycle only its own packaging.
Instead, these companies can collectively implement EPR(extended producer responsibility) is a strategy designed to promote the integration of environmental costs associated with goods throughout their life cycles into the market price of the products, by geographically dividing a region into zones and handle the waste generated in their designated zones.
This strategy was used in Switzerland to recycle thermocol used for insulation of buildings. This also reduces collection, transportation and recycling costs. Companies and governments should interact and research on how to implement such plans.
Private sector Participation in Recycling plastic:
In India, some companies have helped empower the informal recycling sector, giving waste pickers dignity and steady incomes. Another firm has worked with the informal sector and engineered the production of high quality recycled plastic. These companies, large corporates and governments could cooperate to implement innovative means to realise the value of plastic disposed of while simultaneously investing in phasing it out.
For example, a Canadian company monetises plastic waste in novel ways. It has one of the largest chains of waste plastic collection centres, where waste can be exchanged for anything (from cash to medical insurance to cooking fuel). Through this, multinational corporations have invested in recycling infrastructure and in providing a steady and increased rate for waste plastic to incentivise collection in poor countries.
Such collection centres, like the ones operated by informal aggregators in India, can be very low-cost investments (a storage facility with a weighing scale and a smart phone).
Plastic: A wealth from the waste:
India generates an estimated 16 lakh tonnes of plastic waste annually. If sold at the global average rate of 50 cents a kg, it can generate a revenue of ₹5,600 crore a year. Why then is most of this waste around us? In order to realise the potential for recycling, waste must first be segregated at source. This segregated waste should be then transported and treated separately. If plastic waste is mixed with organic and sanitary matter, its recyclability drastically reduces and its value lost.
- Local actions are required for mitigating plastic pollution, using mechanisms such as bans on plastic bags, maximum daily limits for emissions into watersheds, and incentives for fishing gear retrieval.
- Countries should come together to establish measurable reduction targets for plastic waste. A meaningful international agreement—one with clearly defined waste reduction targets is the need of the hour.
- Effective policies must take into account all stages of the lifecycle of plastic—connecting producers to users and ultimately to waste managers.
- Fossil fuel subsidies incentivise the plastic market. Hence, Countries should end fossil fuel subsidies. Annually, 4–8% of oil is used to produce raw plastic.
- India has a major problem dealing with plastics, particularly single-use shopping bags that reach dumping sites, rivers and wetlands along with other waste.
- The most efficient way to deal with the pollution is to control the production and distribution of plastics.
- Banning single-use bags and making consumers pay a significant amount for the more durable ones is a feasible solution.
- Enforcing the Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016, which require segregation of waste will retrieve materials and greatly reduce the burden on the environment.
- Waste separation can be achieved in partnership with the community, and presents a major employment opportunity.
The best way to reduce plastic pollution is to reduce and phase out its consumption. Solutions range from carrying your own reusable steel glass, box, spoon and cloth bag while eating out or shopping for groceries to using alternatives to plastic for household items.
Additionally, there should be research on ways to implement these rules, waste generation quantities and trends and find innovative alternatives to plastic.
It is time we rethink, reduce, segregate and recycle every time we encounter a piece of plastic so that it stops damaging our environment and our lives.