Supreme Court turns down plea to ban PET bottles, packaging

Environmentalists say fresh studies suggest they may be harmful to health

By Soma Basu
Published: Tuesday 29 October 2013

The Supreme Court has dismissed an appeal against the decision of the Madhya Pradesh High Court which had dismissed a public interest petition seeking ban on PET (thermoplastic polymer, polyethylene terephthalate) in packaging food, drugs and beverages.

The petition was filed by Prani Mitra Samiti (Pramisha), a non-governmental organization (NGO). While dismissing the special leave petition, the apex court upheld the high court verdict, which based its order on the fact that under the Food Safety Act, PET packaging had been certified by the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) 26 years ago.

Environmentalists say scientific studies by independent groups show chemical elements in PET bottles react with chemical components in drugs and cause leaching in different temperature conditions. These companies might have BIS clearances, but the government should reconsider use of PET bottles in the light of fresh studies, they say.

Public interest petitions were filed in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana, saying PET polluted beverages and caused environmental hazard; several courts have rejected petitions on the subject. NGO’s approached the health ministry for a ban on PET packaging for medicines, saying leaching can have a carcinogenic impact.

Health ministry sets up expert committee

The health ministry set up an expert committee to look into the matter after two Dehradun-based NGOs intensified protests against PET bottles and demanded complete ban on its usage. Coloured and uncoloured PET bottles are used as primary packaging material in pharmaceutical liquid orals, suspensions and dry syrups. The expert committee has submitted its observations to the Drug Testing Advisory Board (DTAB) and it is scheduled to be discussed in next meeting.

The bench of Chief Justice P Sadasivam and Justice Ranjan Gogoi rejected the plea outright last Friday. The bench observed that the petitioner should have presented scientific studies or details in his plea against PET packaging. The bench then asked the petitioner's advocate Gautam Awasthi to read the Madhya Pradesh High Court order in detail before dismissing the case.

The high court judgement stated that PET bottles have already been certified by Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) and there is no specific study by any recognised institution to show otherwise that such packaging is hazardous to the health of consumers or the environment. Further, the high court order took cognisance of the pollution control board's response that PET bottles are recyclable and are not harmful to human beings.

PET users

The country’s soft drinks market is the primary consumer for PET bottles. In volume terms, 65 per cent of soft drinks now come in PET bottles. The other major user industries include pharma, drinking water, edible oil, milk, spices, honey, pickles, ketchup and confectioneries. The PET raw material industry is planning to expand its capacity from 1.2 million tonnes to three million tonnes. As much as 60,000 tonnes is used by the domestic industry; the rest is exported. The PET industry is worth Rs 4,000-crore.

Judgement of the High Court of Madhya Pradesh on the use of PET bottles, 26/06/2013

Action plan with indicative guidelines for plastics waste management (PWM)

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