Single-use plastic menace threatens to choke India - GulfToday

Single-use plastic menace threatens to choke India

Meena Janardhan

Writer/Editor/Consultant. She has over 25 years of experience in the fields of environmental journalism and publishing.

Writer/Editor/Consultant. She has over 25 years of experience in the fields of environmental journalism and publishing.

Plastic pollution

The photo has been used for illustrative purposes.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his Independence Day speech urged people to stop using single-use plastic bags so that India could start phasing them out from October 2, the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi.

“I request citizens to see if we can make India single-use plastic free from October 2. Schools, colleges, municipalities, urban bodies, gram panchayats can collect single-use plastic bags from their areas and on October 2, we can take up the task of phasing out the use of single-use plastic bags in a big way,” he said.

According to a study by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), the average per capita consumption of plastic in India is about 11kgs.

Modi urged technical experts and industrialists to invest in recycling single-use plastic, and shopkeepers to use cloth bags. “Plastic bags are being used to make highways. Today, I request shopkeepers to put up boards in shops, saying ‘don’t request plastic bags, get a cloth bag’. Or shopkeepers can give cloth bags to customers. Cloth bags can be given out as Diwali gifts too,” he said, adding that rising demand for jute and cloth bags could help raise farmers’ income.

Experts say that a huge concern in India is that single-use plastic is on the rise. It is almost impossible to recycle as most of it is below 50 microns of thickness and takes over 400 years to break down. More than 50 per cent of the plastic we use is in this category.

A September 2017 report by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), which extrapolated data from 60 major cities, states that the country generates around 25,940 tonnes of plastic waste a day. About 94 per cent of this comprises thermoplastic, such as PET (polyethylene terephthalate) and PVC (polyvinyl chloride), which is recyclable. The remaining belongs to thermoset and other categories of plastics, such as sheet molding compound (SMC), fibre reinforced plastic (FRP) and multi-layer thermocol, which are non-recyclable.

Recent data released by the Plastindia Foundation estimates that in 2017-18 alone, India consumed 16.5 million tonnes of plastic. Worse, according to industry body FICCI, 43% of India’s plastics are used in packaging and are single-use plastic. Consumption has clearly outstripped India’s capacity to recycle.

The National Green Tribunal recently rapped 25 states and union territories for not following its orders on submitting a plan by April 30, 2019, on how they would comply with the Plastic Waste Management Rules of 2016. Except for Andhra Pradesh, Sikkim, West Bengal and Puducherry, all the other states face the prospect of having to pay a huge penalty for each month of delay

As per CPCB reports, plastic contributes to 8% of the total solid waste, with Delhi producing the maximum quantity followed by Kolkata and Ahmedabad. Only 60% of the total plastic waste is being recycled. Households generate maximum plastic waste, of which water and soft drink bottles form a large number.

In India, around 43% of manufactured plastics are used for packaging purpose and most are of single use. Multi Layered Plastics are categorized under either recyclable, energy recoverable or with some other alternate use, but their recycling is an expensive process. FICCI data also highlights that the plastic processing industry is estimated to grow to 22 million tonnes a year by 2020 from 13.4 MT in 2015 and nearly half of this is single-use plastic.

The 2016 Plastic Waste Management Rules were an attempt to improve legislation, and state that every local body has to be responsible for setting up infrastructure for segregation, collection, processing and disposal of plastic waste. Additionally, the rules, amended in 2018, introduced the concept of extended producer responsibility, according to which the producers (manufacturers, importers and those using plastic in packaging) as well as brand owners would be held responsible.

A new national framework on plastic waste management is in the works, which will have more stringent targets on extended producer responsibility for brand owners and producers, and norms on traceability of plastic waste. It will also introduce third-party audits as part of the monitoring mechanism.

Waste-to-energy (WTE) plants that incinerate municipal waste to produce energy have been hailed as a solution to the gargantuan problem. Apart from several state and city-level governments, the Centre also plans to invest in 100 such plants by 2020.

Promoting substitutes for polythene bags is yet another solution – but it needs to be implemented strictly and successfully. So also the substitution of plastic with other biodegradable materials such as reused cotton or paper.