Baba’s Explainer – Single-use plastics ban

  • IASbaba
  • September 10, 2022
  • 0
Environment & Ecology, Governance, Social Issues
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  • GS-1: Effects of globalization on Indian society;  Social empowerment
  • GS-2: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

Context: In keeping with the spirit of the ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’, the country is taking steps to curb littered and unmanaged plastic waste pollution.

  • Since July 1, 2022, India has banned the manufacture, import, stocking, distribution, sale, and use of single-use plastic (SUP) items with low utility and high littering potential.
Why are single-use plastics harmful?
  • The purpose of single-use plastics is to use them once or for a short period of time before disposing of them.
  • Plastic waste has drastic impacts on the environment and human health.
  • There is a greater likelihood of single-use plastic products ending up in the sea than reusable ones.
  • India has taken resolute steps to mitigate pollution caused by littered single-use plastics.
    • A number of items are banned, including earbuds with plastic sticks, balloon sticks, plastic flags, candy sticks, ice cream sticks, polystyrene (thermocol) for decorations, plates, cups, glasses, cutlery such as forks, spoons, knives, straws, trays, wrapping or packing films around sweet boxes, invitation cards, cigarette packets, plastic or PVC banners less than 100 micron, stirrers, etc.
What gas been India’s leadership role to deal with plastic pollution?
  • Littered single-use plastic items have an adverse effect on both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.
  • All countries face a major environmental challenge due to pollution caused by single-use plastic items.
  • India piloted a resolution on single-use plastics pollution at the 4th United Nations Environment Assembly in 2019, recognising the urgent need for the global community to address this issue.
    • In the recently concluded 5th session of the United Nations Environment Assembly in March 2022, India engaged constructively with all member states to develop a consensus on a resolution to drive global action against plastic pollution.
  • However, India is not the first country to ban single-use plastics.
    • Bangladesh became the first country to ban thin plastic bags in 2002;
    • New Zealand banned plastic bags in July 2019.
    • China had issued a ban on plastic bags in 2020 with a phased implementation.
  • As of July 2019, 68 countries have plastic bag bans with varying degrees of enforcement.
What are the plastic waste management rules in India?
  • Recently, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Government of India, has notified the Plastic Waste Management Amendment Rules, 2021.
  • These rules prohibit identified single use plastic items which have low utilityand high littering potential by 2022.
  • The manufacture, import, stocking, distribution, sale and use of single-use plastic, including polystyrene and expanded polystyrene,commodities shall be prohibited with effect from the 1st July, 2022.
  • In order to stop littering due to light weight plastic carry bags, with effect from 30th September, 2021, the thickness of plastic carry bags has been increased from 50 microns to 75 micronsand to 120 microns with effect from the 31st December, 2022.
  • Currently the Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016, prohibits manufacture, import, stocking, distribution, sale and use of carry bags and plastic sheets less than 50 microns in thickness in the country.
  • The plastic packaging wasteshall be collected and managed in an environmentally sustainable way through the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) of the Producer, importer and Brand owner.
  • For effective implementation ofEPR, the Guidelines for the same being brought out have been given legal force through Plastic Waste Management Amendment Rules, 2021.
  • The Central Pollution Control Board, along with state pollution bodies, will monitor the ban, identify violations, and impose penalties already prescribed under the Environmental Protection Act.
  • States/UTs have been requested to constitute a Special Task Force for elimination of single use plastics and effective implementation of the rules. A National Level Taskforcehas also been constituted for coordination efforts.
What is the role of the manufacturer?
  • In addition, the Ministry of Environment, Forests, and Climate Change notified the Plastic Waste Management Amendment Rules, 2022 on February 16, 2022.
  • Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is the responsibility of a producer for the environmentally sound management of the product until the end of its life.
  • The guidelines provide a framework to strengthen the circular economy of plastic packaging waste, promote the development of new alternatives to plastic packaging and provide the next steps for moving towards sustainable plastic packaging by businesses.
What are the challenges?
  • The ban will succeed only if all stakeholders participate enthusiastically and engage in effective engagement and concerted actions.
  • However, if we look back at our past, 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.
  • Now the challenge is to see how the local level authorities will enforce the ban in accordance with the guidelines. Banned items such as earbuds with plastic sticks, plastic sticks for balloons, etc., are non-branded items and it is difficult to find out who the manufacturer is and who is accountable for selling because these items will be available in the market even after the issuing of guidelines.
What’s happening on the research and development front?
  • The consumer needs to be informed about the ban through advertisements, newspaper or TV commercials, or on social media. In order to find sustainable alternatives, companies need to invest in research and development.
  • The solution to the plastic pollution problem is not the responsibility of the government alone, but of industries, brands, manufacturers and most importantly consumers.
  • Finding alternatives to plastic seems a little difficult, however, greener alternatives to plastic may be considered a sustainable option. For example, compostable and bio-degradable plastic, etc., may be considered as an option.
  • 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.
What is the Way Forward?
  • As individuals: We can reduce our plastic pollution and be more environmentally conscious by avoiding single-use plastics (e.g. straws, cups, cutlery, etc.) and packaging materials (e.g. polybags). Instead we can use jute bags, glass bottles or jars, steel or ceramic cutleries and utensils, and paper-made tetra packs.
  • The private sector needs to invest more in producing alternatives and biodegradable plastics and in phasing out the production of plastic. More research and technology investment and development is required to make alternatives to plastic that are economically viable and affordable.
  • The government should play a leading role by
  • Enacting strong policies and regulations that will encourage a more sustainable model for the design and production of plastics – Local bodies mandated under rules to ensure segregation, collection and transfer of waste to registered recyclers have spectacularly failed to fulfil their responsibilities. The State Level Monitoring Committees provided for under the rules have not been made accountable. The waste management framework is dysfunctional
  • Technical and financial incentives from the government are instrumental for the transformation of the existing production system to a more sustainable one.
  • Urban local bodies: Urban local bodies across states should adopt the material recovery facility (MRF) model & implement it as a public-private partnership model for sustainable management of urban plastic waste. Urban local bodies are mandated under the Municipal Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016, and the Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016, to manage municipal solid waste and plastic waste at the city level.

  • Essay: There is no Plan B because we do not have a Planet B.

Note: Write answers to this question in the comment section.

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