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Single-use plastic

GS Paper 3

Syllabus: Environment Conservation/ Science and Technology


Source: The Hindu

Direction: Keep the basic concept of SUP, harmful effects, alternatives available, and rules governing it ready.

 Context: MoEFCC has notified the Plastic Waste Management Amendment Rules, 2021 on August 12, 2021

      • India has signed a resolution to draw up an agreement (under UNEA, India is a party to it) that will make it legally binding for signatories to address the full life cycle of plastics, from production to disposal.

 What is single-use plastic?

As the name suggests, it refers to plastic items that are used once and discarded. E.g., plastics used in packaging items, bottles (shampoo, detergents, cosmetics), polythene bags, face masks, coffee cups, cling film, trash bags, food packaging etc.



As per the Minderoo Foundation report (2021): single-use plastics account for a third of all plastic produced globally, with 98% manufactured from fossil fuels.

      • India features in the top 100 countries of single-use plastic waste generation – at rank 94 (the top three being Singapore, Australia and Oman).
      • India’s domestic production of SUP is 8 million metric tonnes annually, and its import of 2.9 MMT.
      • India’s per capita generation is 4 kg.
      • The largest share of single-use plastic is that of packaging – with as much as 95% of single-use belonging to this category – from toothpaste to shaving cream to frozen foods.


Why SUP is a cause of concern?

      • Harm environment: Single-use plastic also accounts for the majority of plastic discarded – 130 million metric tonnes globally in 2019 — all of which are burned, buried in landfills or discarded directly into the environment.
      • GHG emission: On the current trajectory of production, it has been projected that single-use plastic could account for 5-10% of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.


What are the items being banned?

      • Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) have announced a ban on – earbuds; balloon sticks; candy and ice-cream sticks; cutlery items including plates, cups, glasses, forks, spoons, knives, trays; sweet boxes; invitation cards; cigarette packs; PVC banners measuring under 100 microns; and polystyrene for decoration.
      • Polythene bag: The Ministry had already banned polythene bags under 75 microns in September 2021, expanding the limit from the earlier 50 microns. From December 2022, the ban will be extended to polythene bags under 120 micron
      • Sachets: According to the Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016, there is also a complete ban on sachets using plastic material for storing, packing or selling gutkha, tobacco and pan masala.


Why these items?

As per the ministry: The choice for the first set of single-use plastic items for the ban was based on “difficulty of collection, and therefore recycling”.


How will the ban be enforced?

      • Monitoring by CPCB: The ban will be monitored by the CPCB from the Centre and by the State Pollution Control Boards (SPCBs) that will report to the Centre regularly.
      • Stop raw materials supply: for example, to all petrochemical industries — to not supply raw materials to industries engaged in the banned items.
      • Directions to industries: SPCBs and Pollution Control Committees will modify or revoke consent to operate issued under the Air/Water Act to industries engaged in single-use plastic items.
      • Fresh licensing required: Local authorities have been directed to issue fresh commercial licenses with the condition that SUP items will not be sold on their premises, and existing commercial licences will be cancelled if they are found to be selling these items.
      • Encouraging compostable plastics: CPCB has issued one-time certificates to 200 manufacturers of compostable plastic and the BIS passed standards for biodegradable plastic.
      • Penalty: Those found violating the ban can be penalised under the Environment Protection Act 1986 – which allows for imprisonment up to 5 years, or a penalty up to Rs 1 lakh, or both.
        • Violators can also be asked to pay Environmental Damage Compensation by the SPCB.


What are the challenges?

      • Previously, almost 25 Indian States previously banned plastic at the state level. However, these bans had a very limited impact in reality because of the widespread use of these items.


What should be done:

      • Awareness: The consumer needs to be informed about the ban through advertisements, newspaper or TV commercials, or on social media.
      • Find sustainable alternatives: companies need to invest in research and development.


How are other countries dealing with single-use plastic?

      • Consensus on SUP in UN: This year, 124 countries, parties to the United Nations Environment Assembly, including India, signed a resolution to draw up an agreement which will in the future make it legally binding for the signatories to address the full life of plastics from production to disposal, to end plastic pollution.
        • 68 countries have plastic bag bans with varying degrees of enforcement
      • Bangladesh: Bangladesh became the first country to ban thin plastic bags in 2002.
      • China: China issued a ban on plastic bags in 2020 with a phased implementation.
      • EU: EU bans certain single-use plastics for which alternatives are available.



While the total ban on the use of plastic sounds a great idea, its feasibility seems difficult at this hour, especially in the absence of workable alternatives.


Insta Links:

Substitute for single-use plastics



Mains Link:

Q. What is single-use plastic and what are the concerns associated with it? How can it be successfully phased out in the country? (15M)


Prelims Link:

Link it with how are plastic produced. Acts governing its use.

Q. Bisphenol A (BPA), a cause of concern, is a structural/key component in the manufacture of which of the following kinds of plastics? (UPSC 2021)

(a) Low-density polyethylene

(b) Polycarbonate

(c) Polyethylene terephthalate

(d) Polyvinyl chloride

Answer: B

BPA stands for bisphenol A, an industrial chemical that has been used to make certain plastics and resins since the 1950s. BPA is found in polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins. Polycarbonate plastics are often used in containers that store food and beverages, such as water bottles.

Q. Triclosan considered harmful when exposed to high levels for a long time, is most likely present in which of the following? (UPSC 2021)

(a) Food preservatives

(b) Fruit-ripening substances

(c) Reused plastic containers

(d) Toiletries

Answer: D

Triclosan is an antibacterial and antifungal agent present in some consumer products, including toothpaste, soaps, detergents, toiletries toys, and surgical cleaning treatments