Life of Plastic: India’s petrochemical industry is a part of its ‘polymer problem’, says CSE; yet it is encouraged

India plans to position itself as a major exporter of basic petrochemicals, CSE’s new report hints

By DTE Staff
Published: Monday 21 November 2022
Polypropylene is a thermoplastic polymer used in a wide variety of applications. Photo: iStock

India’s petrochemical industry is adding to the burgeoning problem of plastic pollution in the country. But instead of dissuading, the Centre is encouraging it, a new report by Delhi-based think-tank, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has said.

The production of polymers (plastic) by the petrochemicals industry is on the rise, as is consumption, according to The Plastic Life-Cycle.

Even as the United Nations and several countries worldwide are trying to put a lid on petrochemicals’ use in making plastics, India is going the opposite the way. It plans to position itself as a major exporter of basic petrochemicals, especially for polymers, the report hinted.

The document noted that unless the entire life cycle of plastic — from source to disposal — is not together considered as the root cause of the pollution it causes, the problem is not going away.

Currently though, the focus is entirely on downstream issues related to collection, management, diversion and disposal of plastic waste.

CSE will release the report at a one-day National Conclave to discuss the issue November 22, 2022.

CSE’s report comes even as the intergovernmental negotiating committee of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) meets at Punta del Este, Uruguay, from November 28-December 2 to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment.

A bullrun

India’s cumulative production capacity for petrochemicals is 29.10 million metric tonne per annum (MMTPA), according to The Plastic Life-Cycle.

The 29.10 MMTPA petrochemicals produced by India are of five types: synthetic fibres (polyester, nylon), polymers (plastics), elastomers (synthetic rubber), synthetic detergent intermediates and performance plastics.

Both, the production and consumption of polymers in India has risen drastically in the last few years, the report noted.

India’s polymer production increased by 2.6 times from 2005-2019. The average increase in polymer production between 2005-06 and 2019-20 was 160 per cent, according to a CSE analysis.

Plastics accounted for more than 67 per cent of the total petrochemicals produced in India in 2020-21.

There has been more consumption of polymers than production over the last decade and a half. “This can be explained by the fact that a lot of plastic and its products are imported in the form of pellets, which are then turned into usable products and sold to consumers,” the report said.

The average increase in polymer consumption between 2005-06 and 2019-20 was 196 per cent. The import of polymers witnessed a four-fold rise between 2005 and 2020.

The report added that the Government of India was encouraging the production of plastics from petrochemicals in a number of ways.

It had promoted a ‘cluster approach’ for developing plastic parks across the country — a total of 10 such parks have been proposed. The government had also revised the Petroleum, Chemicals and Petrochemical Investment Region (PCPIR) in 2020 for the period of 2020-35.

“The PCPIR is equipped with an anchor tenant who ensures the availability of raw materials by importing the crude oil, refining it and passing on the processed building blocks for further processing,” the report read.

The final product in the form of pellets is transported to the plastic industry where they are melted, moulded and remoulded into a variety of plastic objects for end use.

“The plastic industry benefits from the proximity and availability of the raw materials, which results in decreased transportation cost and an assured flow of raw material,” according to the report.

The Centre was also ensuring that India did not get the blame for producing large amounts of plastic from crude oil.

For instance, UNEA gave the go-ahead in March 2022 for a global instrument on plastic pollution with an open mandate. This would be legally binding and would cover the entire life cycle of plastic.

“However, India has retained its bargaining power under the future instrument by inserting language on ‘common but differentiated responsibility (CBDR)’, borrowing its position from climate negotiations,” the report said.

This meant that India would be able to decide the time of its choice to reduce its petrochemical and plastic footprints, the report said.

This is the first of a seven-part series based on a CSE report released November 22, 2022 at India Habitat Centre 

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