One of the pioneers of the Extended Producers Responsibility (EPR) theory, Thomas Lindhqvist believes that plastic waste management will become increasingly expensive and EPR is the only logical solution. Excerpts of the interview he gave to Prabhanjan Verma
What is extended producers responsibility ( epr ) concept?
Under epr producers bear a degree of responsibility for all the environmental impacts of their products. They must take their products back at the end of their useful life either directly or through a third party. The manufacturers are also responsible for the products' disposal and the waste generated. They are therefore compelled to design equipment so that it can be reused or recycled, thus benefiting the environment. This concept can easily be applied to plastic as well.
What are the implications of epr in plastic waste management?
Plastic is used extensively generating more and more waste that is difficult to dispose of. And as I see, plastic waste management will become increasingly expensive.
Is recycling or incineration a solution to combat the problem of plastic waste?
Not always. You cannot go on recycling plastic infinitely. But in India, recycling is the basis of waste management. Incineration will prove to be a good option if plastic is segregated at the source. Incineration of assorted plastic can turn out to be a good fuel. But it is very expensive. As things stand now, efficient recycling is the key.
What are the impacts of various policies, specifically the plastic waste recycling rule?
Well, industry will change. It already has become responsive. Industry itself is coming up with innovative solutions. That is what we are counting on and that is what we are seeing.
How is epr different from polluter pays principle?
The two are quite similar. You can say that epr is a form of polluter pays principle. But the way polluter pays principle was interpreted makes it impractical. The question is who will decide who is the polluter. Well, everyone here is polluter. I think, it is difficult for the classical economy to say how much to pay, not in theory but in practice. Politically, its difficult to introduce economic instruments. epr puts the responsibility on the industry. After all industry people cannot say they are not responsible for what they do. This way manufacturers are made responsible and epr induces competition among the manufacturers that leads to innovative ideas of reducing waste, especially plastic waste.
How do you assess epr ? Is it working in Europe?
I think neutral assessments are fairly positive. Government assessment is reasonably positive. Even the industry is positive about it. In Sweden we are already recycling 85 per cent of plastic waste and by 2015 it will reach upto 95 per cent. European Union has also adopted epr as a logical solution to the problem of plastic waste. So, I would say, it is by and large successful.
Do you think it will work in India?
Yes, it will work in India because logic is very strong. This is the way of solving society problems without raising the taxes. Industry may lobby against it but one must understand that the kind of consumption has changed and so have the modern ways of waste management. The concept is very tempting for the government, as it does not talk about raising taxes. It's kind of good governance. What do you think of awareness campaigns advocating no use of plastic?
The awareness campaigns are good in a way. If people stop using plastic, there will be no problem of plastic waste. But it is not as simple. Business wise it will be bad. I think people are fairly aware. They are now using cloth bags more and more. People in Europe have also started reusing thick plastic bags more than once. Important thing is these bags do not come for free. Paper plastics are also showing their presence that is quite similar to the plastic. Good thing these campaigns have done is that people are now using plastic bags several times, reducing littering. This is because they pay for it.
Experts feel that longer life option along with a change in consumer behaviour towards using an item for longer period is a very safe option. Your opinion?
I do not believe in this philosophy. You cannot change consumer behaviour on the basis of anti-plastic campaign. It is not in resonance with sound business principles. If somebody is bored of his television, he will go for change. You cannot drive him to use it for years. A better idea is to go for recycling that creates incentive both for consumers and manufacturers.
Sweden is a leader in plastic waste management. What more is being done?
We are working for more efficient recycling of plastic waste under the epr system. We are also advocating for bringing electronics and furniture industries under the epr net as these industries are using more and more plastic. We are expecting legislation to this effect very soon.
Judging by the success of plastic waste management in Europe, should we believe that plastic and environment would live in harmony?
Over the years recycling technologies have improved tremendously but we still are poor in recycling in general. Waste management is good when it comes to hygienic level but environmentally we have a lot to do.
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