Everyday plastic items such as packaging supplies, household items, automotive components and even certain building materials have become integral to our daily lives. The benefits of plastic are vast: The material is lightweight, durable, strong and inexpensive. Yet the use of plastic comes with an environmental cost.
Plastic bags can take up to 20 years to break down, and plastic water bottles can take 450 years to decompose. While strides have been made to encourage recycling of single-use plastics, nearly 80% of material from such items still ends up in landfills, tossed on the ground or floating in waterways. Behavior and attitudes toward plastic, however, are changing. A growing number of local and national governments are adopting new policies to reduce the use of disposable plastic.
On Sept. 3, 2021, the India Plastics Pact was launched — an ambitious initiative aimed at bringing together businesses, governments and global NGOs to set commitments to tackle the issue of plastic waste and transform India’s current linear plastics system into a circular plastics economy.
The India Plastics Pact aligns with similar plastics pacts many other countries support.
What impact is the production and utilization of plastic having in India?
With the advent of consumerism, growing population, increasing purchasing power and higher standards of living in India, the convenience that packaging and plastic-based consumer goods provides is invaluable. However, the benefits are handicapped by the mismanagement of plastic waste, which results in the clogging of drains, flooding and breeding of diseases, as well as adversely impacting the country’s river and marine resources.
Of the various applications, India’s packaging industry is the biggest consumer of plastics. A 2020 study on packaging in India projects a loss of almost $133 billion worth of plastic material value over the next decade due to unsustainable packaging. The study also suggests that interventions based on a circular economy have the potential to recover almost 75% of this projected loss value.
How is India addressing its environmental concerns regarding plastic?
In recent years, the Government of India (GOI) considered and enacted various forms of environmental legislation and regulations at the national, state or local levels with respect to plastics, particularly on the end-of-life management and mitigation of plastic waste pollution. In June 2018, the Prime Minister of India announced that India would eliminate all single-use plastics by 2022. The recently enacted Plastic Waste Management Amendment Rules, 2021, will prohibit the manufacture, import, stocking, distribution, sale and use of several single-use plastic items as of July 1, 2022.
What steps is India taking toward a more circular economy to reduce the detrimental effects of plastic on the environment?
The government, through its 2016 Plastics Waste Management Rules, has mandated Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) that incorporates circularity by making manufacturers of products responsible for collecting and processing their products upon the end of the products’ lifetime. The objective of EPR is to minimize the total environmental impact of waste materials from a product and encourage manufacturers and brand owners to create markets for reuse or recycling of materials.
Another initiative is the India Plastics Pact, which is the first of its kind in Asia. The Plastics Pact is an ambitious and collaborative initiative to bring stakeholders together to reduce, reuse and recycle plastics within the material’s value chain.
How have businesses and other stakeholders responded?
Many states and local authorities have banned the use of single-use plastics, and citizens and business establishments have responded positively. Enforcement, however, continues to be a challenge.
What future challenges should we anticipate?
With India’s Plastics Waste Management Amendment Rules, 2021, initiation of EPR and the India Plastics Pact, the country is moving in the right direction to reduce the burden of plastics on the environment and economy. But there are many challenges to enforcement and implementation due to the size of the country and its large population. Moving toward fostering an environment of a circular economy, however, will likely create economic, social and environmental opportunities.
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