In June 2018, Hon’ble Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi had said India will eliminate Single-Use Plastics (SUP) by 2022 as accumulation of plastic waste is detrimental to the environment and can cause a paramount harm to marine ecosystems, too.

On India’s Independence Day in 2019, the Prime Minister had appealed to the citizens to make the country free from SUPs. He also urged the marquee industry players for providing better solutions for plastic reuse and recycling.

The agenda of making the country SUP-free also featured in the monthly “Mann ki Baat” in December 2020. In line with the announcement, the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF) notified Plastic Waste Management Amendment Rules, 2021, on August 12, 2021, prohibiting 20 identified single-use plastic items by 1st July 2022. An expert committee constituted by the Department of Chemicals and Petrochemicals (DCPC), under the direction of the Union Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers on was setup which identified single-use plastic items to be phased out.

What is Single-Use Plastic?

SUP is plastic produced and designed to be thrown away after being used only once. With this definition, a plethora of products fall in the category. These include everything from a disposable plastic straw to a disposable plastic syringe.

SUP has been defined as “a plastic commodity intended to be used once for the same purpose before being disposed of or recycled” in Plastic Waste Management Amendment Rules, 2021.

Plastic Waste Management Rules

With an aim to minimise plastic generation, ensure non-littering and proper segregation of plastic waste, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change introduced the Plastic Waste Management Rules in 2016. The rules mandates the generators of plastic waste to take steps to minimize generation of plastic waste, prevent littering of plastic waste, and ensure segregated storage of waste at source among other measures.

It also includes the responsibilities of local bodies, gram panchayats, waste generators, retailers and street vendors to manage plastic waste. Since 2016, to make the plastic waste management more effective, the rules have been amended to include new and improved provisions.

Plastic Waste Management (Amendment) Rules, 2022: The Plastic Waste Management Rules 2016 have been amended to fast-track the elimination of Single-Use Plastics and promote alternatives.

Some of the important amendments are:

  • Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR): The amended rules notified the instructions on EPR for plastic packaging. The term EPR means the responsibility of a producer for the environmentally sound management of the product until the end of its life. Plastic packaging (flexible and rigid) contributes to almost 60 per cent of the total plastic waste generated. Plastic packaging waste, inscrutably, is not listed for being phased out. It was proposed to be collected and managed in an environmentally sustainable way through the EPR of the producer, importer and brand owner (PIBO), according to the Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016. Reuse of rigid plastic packaging material has been mandated in the guidelines to reduce the use of fresh plastic material for packaging. The enforceable prescription of minimum level of recycling of plastic packaging waste collected under EPR along with use of recycled plastic content will further reduce plastic consumption and support recycling of plastic packaging waste.
  • Centralised Online Portal: The government has also called for establishing a centralised online portal by Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) for the registration as well as filing of annual returns by plastic producers by 31st March, 2022. It would act as the single point data repository with respect to orders and guidelines related to implementation of EPR for plastic packaging under Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016.
  • Environmental Compensation: Environmental compensation will be levied based upon polluter pays principle, with respect to non-fulfilment of EPR targets by the producers, importers and brand owners, for the purpose of preventing, controlling and abating environment pollution. The 'Polluter Pays' principle means imposing liability on a person who pollutes the environment to compensate for the damage caused and return the environment to its original state regardless of the intent. Many businesses misuse their EPR mandate of plastic waste collection in the form corporate social responsibility and present it as a voluntary service to the society by collecting plastic waste generated by them.

The new guidelines will promote development of new alternatives to plastics and provide a roadmap for businesses to move towards sustainable plastic packaging.

This has been co-authored by Kritika Narula and Ria Sharma. 

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