The plastic industry in India started as early as 1957 and since then the industry has been booming and developing significantly, with the country a top exporter of plastic products worldwide. The industry manufactures and exports a variety of raw materials, laminates, electronic accessories, medical ware, and consumer goods. These plastic products are exported to more than 150 countries, mainly throughout Europe, Africa, and Asia.
Over the past few years, the demand for plastic products has increased dramatically and before the ban was imposed by the government, India’s plastic industry saw an exponential growth of 13% annually. The domestic demand and consumption rate of plastic and allied products also increased to 16%.
In-spite of India’s population and rate of unemployment, the plastic industry in India had reported of problems with labor shortages. This led to an increased amount of investment in manufacturing technology such as automation and conveyor belt systems.
As per the UN Environment Programme, the world is adding 300 million tonnes of plastic waste every year to the accumulated pile of about 7 billion tonnes.
An estimated 11 million metric tonnes of plastic are entering the world’s oceans every year, and without urgent action, this number is set to increase to 23-37 million tonnes by 2040.
Statistics indicate that about 60% of Plastic waste in India is collected, which means the remaining 40% or 10,376 tons remain uncollected. The most common reason for plastic waste escaping the reuse/recycling route is ignorance. Now is the time to decide how plastic waste must be handled and the sharing of knowledge on what kinds of plastic waste are being produced is essential.
In June 2018, the Indian Prime Minister announced that the country will eliminate all Single-Use Plastic (SUP) items by the end of 2022.
In order to take such action into effect, the India’s Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MOEFCC) made amendments in the Plastic Waste Management Rules of 2016 to fast-track the elimination of single-use plastics, promote alternatives and also laid down guidelines on Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) for plastic packaging. The draft of the amendment was published and was open for a period of 60 days for public comments, following on from which the Indian government passed the Plastic Waste Management (Amendment) Rules of 2022.
The first rule mandates that non-woven plastic take-away bags must be at least 75 microns thick by September 30th, 2021, and 120 microns by December 31st, 2022 as thicker bags are meant to encourage reuse.
The Union Government also banned the use of certain Single-use Plastic items with effect from July 1st, 2022. As per the gazette notification, the MOEFCC has prohibited the manufacture, import, stocking, distribution, sale and use of the following single-use plastic, including polystyrene and expanded polystyrene, commodities in a phase-wise manner.
Smaller products such as earbuds, food contact articles such as candy and ice-cream sticks, plastic sticks for balloons, plastic flags, candy sticks, ice-cream sticks, polystyrene [thermocol] for decoration, plates, cups, cutlery, straws, trays, stirrers, and certain wrapping films will be banned from July 1st, 2022. While packing films, cigarette packets and PVC banners that are less than 100 microns in thickness will be prohibited in the next phase. However, the new provisions do not apply to compostable plastic items.
Additionally, the government has also announced that the guideline for EPR wherein plastic packaging waste which is not covered under the phase-out of the identified single-use plastic items, shall be collected and managed in an environmentally sustainable way after consumer use and it shall be the responsibility of the producer, manufacturer, importer and brand owner to effectively manage it as per the rules laid down under the Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016.
Further, the Centre has also asked the States and Union Territories to constitute a Special Task Force for the elimination of single use plastics and effective implementation of Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016. MOEFCC has also constituted a ‘National Level Taskforce’ for taking coordinated efforts to eliminate the identified single use plastic items.
Many Industrial bodies such as the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) have raised major concerns. A blanket ban on single-use plastics would have a multitude of effects on industry and would lead to an increase in the price of most FMCG products.
Statistically, it is considered that over USD 6.89 billion of the plastic manufacturing industry would be hit due to the blanket ban and the food processing industry would suffer from a revenue loss of USD 11.70 billion. It is estimated that a total of 1.3 million personnel across 10,000 firms would immediately lose their jobs. Therefore, in order to mitigate the damage to be caused due to a blanket ban, the government has decided to be cautious and gradually phase out single-use plastics.
India has launched many initiatives to tackle plastic waste. Initiatives such as Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, India Plastic Pact, Project REPLAN, Un-Plastic collective and Go-litter Partnership Projects. It is seen that a blanket ban shall not stop manufacturers from producing single-use plastic products and it is essential to find substitutes for use-and-throw plastic and to ensure alternative livelihoods for producers, waste pickers and other groups involved in the business.
Under the EPR policy the amount of plastic that is collected and recycled needs to be improved which would mean regulating manufacturers and asking them to clearly mark the type of plastic used in a product, so it can be recycled appropriately.
In addition to improving recyclability, investment in research and development for alternatives should also be a priority. Fines need to be imposed by the government for not adhering to the guidelines, incentives should also be given to producers to switch to more sustainable products. Along with proper monitoring, promoting responsible consumerism is very important.
In March, the Indian government stated it was on track to meet its Paris Agreement climate change targets and added that it has voluntarily committed to reducing greenhouse gas emission intensity of its GDP by 33% to 35% by 2030.