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Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016: Heading on the right path but certain ambiguities remain

India is still struggling with managing its plastic wastes with about 15,342 tonne of plastic waste generated every day. The Government notified Plastic Waste Management (PWM) Rules, 2016 in March this year, suppressing the erstwhile Plastic Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2011. Though some Indian states like- Jharkhand and Himachal Pradesh and cities like- Pune, have set an example by taking proactive steps for managing wastes at their respective levels,  the real penetrating question is- have we moved beyond just ‘professing’ for plastic waste management?  This article attempts to critically analyze the difference between the new 2016 rules on Plastic Waste Management and its earlier avatar as well as highlight the key steps which need to be taken for a robust plastic waste management system in the country.

PWM Rules 2016 provide a good framework for addressing the problem of plastic waste; however, they fail to address the key objective of reducing/ minimizing use of plastic in the first place.

 PWM Rules 2016 provide a good framework for addressing the problem of plastic waste; however, they fail to  address the key objective of reducing/minimizing use of plastic in the first place. Multi-stakeholder collaboration is  needed for scalable solutions & to avoid adverse environmental impact of plastic waste.

 Undeniably, the new Plastic Waste Management Rules  which were released on March 18, 2016 arrived with a lot of attention- about 238 suggestions/objections were recorded through consultative meetings on the draft rules of 2015, which were later examined by the Working Group, which gave recommendations and eventually paved way for these new set of rules as PWM Rules, 2016.

The key areas which these new rules thrust on, are-

  • Emphasizing on plastic waste recycling, source segregation.
  • Making the waste pickers, recyclers and waste processors an integral part of the whole system.
  • Adopting the “polluter-pays principle” for the ensuring sustainability in waste management.

From a comparative lens:

Following are some of the key areas where the new Rules make a departure from the older 2011 rules:

Parameters

Plastic Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2011

Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016

Scope of application

  • Applicable only to the municipal areas

 

  • Applicable to every waste generator, gram panchayat, local bodies, manufacturers, Importers and producers.
  • Jurisdiction also extended to rural area as plastics reaching rural areas has been acknowledged, finally.
  • Responsibility for implementation of the rules is given to Gram Panchayat.

Prohibition

Minimum thickness for plastic carry bags, made of virgin or recycled

Plastic, kept at 40 microns only.

Minimum thickness of plastic carry bags increased from 40 to 50 microns

 

Responsibility of Waste Generators

Waste generators like- event  organisers, institutional generators  etc. earlier were not under any specific responsibility, within these rules.

 

Individual and bulk generators like commercial establishments, offices, industries, event organizers have to segregate the plastic waste at source, handover segregated waste, and also pay user fee as prescribed by ULB and spot fine in case of violation.

Responsibility of retailers, street vendors

No specification.

Only the shopkeepers, or street vendors registered with the local body after payment of a fee (Rs. 48,000/- @ Rs 4,000/- per month) will be eligible to provide plastic carry bags for dispensing the commodities.

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) for producers and brand owners

No specification

Introduced EPR for producers and brand owners – making them responsible for the waste generated from their products, for the first time. Earlier, it was left to the discretion of the local bodies.

 

Ambiguities in Rules continue to pose Challenges:

Arguably, the new rules are revised and broader in scope than the 2011’s rules of which some are listed above, while certain new initiatives/promises by 2016’s rules like- plan of phasing out of multi-layered plastic in packaging within 2 years, strengthening monitoring or making the local authorities accountable and an important part of the waste management gamut are indeed, well appreciated steps. 

Plan of phasing out of multi-layered plastic in packaging within 2 years, strengthening monitoring or making the local authorities accountable and an important part of the waste management gamut are indeed are well appreciated steps.

 Even the idea of promoting energy recovery/waste-to-oil and use of plastic waste for road construction as per  the “Indian Road Congress guidelines” for better utilization of waste have been brought up atleast  by these new  rules which were simply absent in earlier rules/amendments. But the fact is—are these professed statements  being implemented as well? Sadly, the reality suggests that certain “ambiguities” still remain.

 

According to Mr. Haren Sanghvi, Vice President (West), All India Plastics Manufacturers Association-- two basic types of ambiguities persist currently: missing clarification on registration aspect for companies and misguiding EPR Policy.

Two basic types of ambiguities persist currently: missing clarification on registration aspect for companies and misguiding EPR Policy (AIPMA)

On the former issue, already the phase for registration is over as it was supposed to be done within 3 months since  the Gazette publication date and the local authorities have still not specified the registration criterias; leaving the central government to plastic manufacturers not-so-happy. While on the later issue, manufacturers/producers/importers jointly seek for clear guidelines on EPR responsibilities and clarification on key matters like- what is the expectation from the Industry and in what capacity, confusion in pricing and marking of bags, applicability to cling films etc.  

Further, certain conditions like- clear standards and specification of maximum decomposition time to allow composting is still missing in the new rules. Finally, basic problem lies with how these waste management rules are implemented, as they are not in-line with laws and regulations or certain norms which have to be followed, leading the new rules to be unrealistically implemented.

Multi-stakeholder collaboration is needed for scalable solutions:

Complete substitutability of plastic has not been found yet, till date. Hence, imposing a ‘blanket ban’ on use of plastic in India could be simply undesirable and impractical, and is not the solution. Managing these plastic wastes efficiently and sustainably is the true need for a country like India which is so diverse in demands and densely populated. At a macroeconomic level, there is a need in India to learn from other successful countries’ examples for best plastic waste management, like from Germany, Denmark within Europe’s “Zero Waste Management System” which works with a philosophy of designing and managing products/processes, reducing the volume and toxicity of wastes and conserving and recovering all resources, instead of burning/burying them.

India needs to progress towards “Zero Waste Management System” which works with a philosophy of designing and managing products/processes, reducing the volume and toxicity of wastes and conserving and recovering all resources, instead of burning/burying them.

Specifically, the latest rules need to be realistically tested perhaps first on local level then applied and implemented nationally for speedier and visible improvements. There is a need for EPR Policy to be comprehensively articulated, clear directions and incentives on integrating informal sector are required, online retail companies (producers) should also be brought under these PWM Rules ambit. 

Multi-stakeholder collaborations including policy makers, ULBs, waste generators/end consumers, plastic industry, solution providers etc. needs to be encouraged to find a sustainable (both technically, financially and socially) approach for plastic waste management in India. Scalable solutions which will help in achieving zero significant adverse environmental impact of plastic waste are the need of the hour. Each stakeholder needs to fulfill their responsibilities well, like- innovators/solution providers should build on more plastic waste treatment technologies; industries, producers should implement more renewability/recyclability in their products; while ULBs and policy developers should create scalable models for plastic waste treatment/processing.  

                                                          

Otherwise, the plastic waste management in India would continue remaining “unorganized” as it is often opined.

References:

We are thankful to Mr. Haren Sanghavi, Vice President (West), All India Plastic Manufacturers’ Association (AIPMA) for his contribution to this article.

 

Author: SustainabilityOutlook