Print Friendly, PDF & Email

RSTV: THE BIG PICTURE- ALTERNATIVES TO PLASTIC

RSTV: THE BIG PICTURE- ALTERNATIVES TO PLASTIC

RSTV

Introduction:

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has stressed on the need to find an alternative to Plastic in order to keep the environment safe. Single use plastic was banned in India last year on the occasion of 150th Birth Anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. Almost half of the plastic produced in the world is designed to be used only once. There are several alternatives to plastic such as glass, paper, cardboard etc. However several aspects need to be looked in to such as recycling rate, safety, affordability etc

What are single use plastics?

  • There is no central and comprehensive definition for single-use plastic, crucial for any ban to be successful.
  • Governments currently use various definitions.
  • The problems caused by them were recognized in 2007.
  • It has been found everywhere ie right from depth of the oceans to the peaks of Himalayas.
  • Single used plastics are used once and thrown away.
  • They accumulate in the water bodies and choke the drains which lead to floods.

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.

Alternatives:

  • Although compostable, biodegradable or even edible plastics made from various materials such as bagasse (the residue after extracting juice from sugarcane), corn starch, and grain flour are promoted as alternatives, these currently have limitations of scale and cost.
  • In India in the absence of robust testing and certification to verify claims made by producers, spurious biodegradable and compostable plastics are entering the marketplace.
  • In January this year, the CPCB said that 12 companies were marketing carry bags and products marked ‘compostable’ without any certification, and asked the respective State Pollution Control Boards to take action on these units.

Solutions to the problem:

  • A ban on single use plastic items would have to lay down a comprehensive mechanism to certify the materials marketed as alternatives, and the specific process required to biodegrade or compost them.
  • The solutions can be packaging innovation and upscaling waste segregation, collection and transmission.
  • Recovering materials from garbage should be a high priority, considering that India is the third highest consumer of materials.
  • A movement against plastic waste would have to prioritise the reduction of single use plastic such as multilayer packaging, bread bags, food wrap, and protective packaging. Consumers often have no choice in the matter.
  • Municipal and pollution control authorities must also be held accountable for the lapses.

Challenges posed:

  • Petroleum-based plastic is not biodegradable and usually goes into a landfill where it is buried or it gets into the water and finds its way into the ocean.
  • Plastic in oceans and forests are choking flora and fauna. In fact, plastic trash is expected to exceed the fish population in 2050.
  • Microplastics have ability to enter food chain with the highest concentration of the pollutants.
  • The PWM Rules Amendment, 2018, omitted explicit pricing of plastic bags that had been a feature of the 2016 Rules.
  • Waste plastic from packaging of everything from food, cosmetics and groceries to goods delivered by online platforms remains unaddressed.
  • The fast moving consumer goods sector that uses large volumes of packaging, posing a higher order challenge.
  • Lack of adequate infrastructure for segregation and collection is the key reason for inefficient plastic waste disposal.
  • Small producers of plastics are facing the ban, while more organised entities covered by the Extended Producer Responsibility clause continue with business as usual.
  • Lack of consultation with stakeholders such as manufacturers of plastics, eateries and citizen groups: This leads to implementation issues and inconvenience to the consumers.
  • Exemptions for certain products such as milk pouches and plastic packaging for food items severely weaken the impact of the ban.
  • No investment in finding out alternative materials to plug the plastic vacuum: Until people are able to shift to a material which is as light-weight and cheap as plastic, banning plastic will remain a mere customary practice.
  • Lack of widespread awareness among citizens about the magnitude of harm caused by single-use plastic: Without citizens ‘buying in’ to a cause, bans only result in creating unregulated underground markets.
  • No strategy to offset the massive economic impact: Sweeping bans like the one in Maharashtra are likely to cause massive loss of jobs and disruption of a large part of the economy dependent on the production and use of plastic.

Way forward:

  • Promote alternatives like cotton, khadi bags and bio-degradable plastics.
  • Provide economic incentives to encourage the uptake of eco-friendly and fit-for-purpose alternatives that do not cause more harm. Support can include tax rebates, research and development funds, technology incubation, public-private partnerships, and support to projects that recycle single-use items and turn waste into a resource that can be used again.
  • Reduce or abolish taxes on the import of materials used to make alternatives.
  • Provide incentives to industry by introducing tax rebates or other conditions to support its transition. Governments will face resistance from the plastics industry, including importers and distributors of plastic packaging. Give them time to adapt.
  • Use revenues collected from taxes or levies on single-use plastics to maximize the public good. Support environmental projects or boost local recycling with the funds. Create jobs in the plastic recycling sector with seed funding.
  • Enforce the measure chosen effectively, by making sure that there is clear allocation of roles and responsibilities.
  • Monitor and adjust the chosen measure if necessary and update the public on progress.
  • International examples:
    • The success of imposing a plastic bag fee has also been established in cities like Chicago and Washington, showing that such interventions could be effective in shaping behaviour change.
    • The European Union is mulling new laws to ban some everyday single-use plastic products including straws, cutlery and plates citing plastic litter in oceans as the concern prompting the action.
    • Countries such as the U.S., Canada and the Netherlands have already put in place regulations to stop the use of microbeads in personal-care products. The sooner India adopts such regulations, the better
  • Encouraging plogging: Picking up litter while jogging or strolling was kick-started on a small scale in a small part of Stockholm about an year ago, it has spread across the globe and India can adopt this as well.

Conclusion:

Packaging is projected to grow into a $72.6 billion industry in India by 2020 from about $31 billion in 2015, with a proportionate rise in waste volumes. The pressure on producers to streamline the collection, recycling and processing of all forms of plastic is bound to grow. Individuals and organizations should now actively remove plastic waste from their surroundings and municipal bodies must arrange to collect these articles. Startups and industries should think of newer ways of recycling.