Circular economy: Potential and opportunities under the Plastic Waste Management Rules
What are Plastic waste Rules and its amendment?
Plastic Waste Management Rules 2016 was notified to ensure onsite plastic waste segregation, to reduce recyclable waste entering into landfills and to minimise generation of plastic waste in country. Rules also mentioned responsibilities of different stakeholders like producers, bulk consumers, street vendors, retailers, Urban Local Bodies and state & Central Pollution control boards. But it lacks effective implementation of circular economy's potential.
The union environment ministry issued Plastic Waste Management (Second Amendment) Rules, 2022 on 16th Feb 2022, in view of the phasing out of certain single-use plastic products from July 1 and the mandate to increase the thickness of plastic carry bags to over 120 microns from December 31. It also included Guidelines on Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR).
Amendment Notification/Guidelines covered mainly:
- Categorising of plastic packaging into 4 forms
- Counting/considering Pre-consumer and Post-consumer plastic packaging waste in waste stream and its recycling
- Yearly target setup for recycling and obligation of recycling for all producers, based on quantum of pre and post packaging waste
- Considering target specific (per stakeholder wise) reuse of rigid plastic packaging material
- End of life disposal via such as road construction, waste to energy, waste to oil, cement kilns (for co processing)
- Creating Market for Plastic credits: Purchase of certificate from Producers, Importers and Brand owners who have used recycled content in excess of their obligation
- Environment compensation via polluter pays principle, in case stakeholders fail to complete their targets
- Mandatory business only with registered entities under PWM Rules 2016
Understanding Linear economy and Circular economy
Linear economy is where we mine raw materials, we process it into a product and finally that is thrown away after use. A linear economy traditionally follows the “take-make-dispose” plan. Value is created in this economic system by producing and selling as many products as possible and raw materials are handled in an inefficient way, because the emphasis is not on conservation.
While Circular economy focus on three principles, one- Eliminate waste and pollution, second- circulate products and material at their highest value and third – focus on regeneration. In a circular economy, waste does not exist and products and raw materials are (designed to be) reused as long and intensive as possible over and over again. Waste is the new raw material.
Opportunities for Circular economy in Plastic waste management
Most of the areas covered under current EPR guidelines now have varies Circular Economy opportunities in plastic waste management:-
1. Waste Collection:
Source segregation and separate transportation is first step to eliminate waste aka circular economy first principle. There is a huge gap in waste collection system, even for mixed MSW, at present in India. More than 80% waste is collected is in mixed form and it takes up more than 70% of Budget of Municipalities in just collection and transportation. Moreover transportation vehicles are not effectively closed & separated or designed to ensure segregation and separate waste collection.
According to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), India generates close to 26,000 tonnes of plastic a day and over 10,000 tonnes a day of plastic waste remains uncollected.
With EPR focus on mandatory pre and post-consumer target package waste collection, source segregation is only effective step to ensure better recycling counts. Thus better Collection Infrastructure is now priority for Producers. Thus opportunity in setting up centres and maintaining collection infrastructure for Producers/Brand owners/Importers.
2. Re-designing and Alternative sustainable solutions for packaging :
Many multi-layer plastic packaging products like Chips/ Kurkure packets, there is no Onward path after they are used i.e they cannot be recycled, reused or composted, so ends up in landfill. They are designed to be disposed. Product like these are result of design choices. As per one report, 43% of all plastics produced in India are used for packaging, majority being single-use plastic (SUP).
Rules bans SUP and EPR mandates reuse of rigid plastic packaging waste along with yearly recycling targets. Additionally there is exemption from ERP targets, in case, the obligated entity utilizes plastic packaging which is 100% biodegradable in the ambient environment leaving no traces of micro plastics or chemical residue or any other traces having adverse environmental and health impacts.
Thus redesigning of packaging material, alternative solutions and reuse will be biggest opportunity under first and second principle of Circular economy i.e reduce, recirculate and re-enter. Products like edible packaging, reusable & biodegradable packaging, will be major areas of focus. Products which could be circulated by being maintained, shared, reused, repaired, refurbished, remanufactured and recycled will be deal of the day.
As EPR also focus on Recycling via authorised recyclers and maintenance of records of all down and upstream vendors/importers/recyclers, beside redesigning and collection infrastructure, technology solution will again be huge. Currently recycling in India has technological challenges, due to mixed nature of MSW. Once waste is collected, it needs to be recycled into something which can increase its life.
Thus innovative and sustainable technologies such as auto waste segregators using AI system for plastic waste segregation into types of plastic or separation via brands or Converting Plastic to various products like Tiles, boards and even boulders for housing with focus on use of single use/multi layered/packaging waste will be good opportunities. Other technologies with output such as waste-to-energy (Gasifiers/Plasma Pyrolysis), Bio-methanol/ Bio-oil or co-processing units will also be the need of hour, considering quantum of plastic waste generated in India.
4. Credit Market:
EPR guidelines also allows sale and purchase of surplus credit certificates either to carry forward or offsetting against previous year targets thus formalising the sector.
So Cloud/AI based systems/software’s for auto-calculation, tracking vendors/recyclers, online record maintaining for environment returns, auto identification of seller or purchasing producer database- based on demand and supply etc will again be good opportunities.
Thus if Tapped properly, PWM Rules can set up good example for converting linear to circular economy market.