This is the first time the pollution watchdog has held companies accountable for not holding their end of the deal
The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has hardened its stance on plastic packaging and asked 52 companies from nine industries to submit their Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) plan, in accordance to the Plastic Waste Management (PWM) Rules, 2016.
The April 24, 2019 notices that the pollution watchdog issued are the first instance of it trying to pin accountability for plastic usage.
“All companies using any kind of plastic packaging are required to undertake EPR registration either from CPCB or State Pollution Control Board (SPCB)/Pollution Control Committee (PCC) as the case may be,” said SK Nigam, former additional director, CPCB. The agency opened online registration of producers and brand owners under EPR and PROs last year.
Non-submission of EPR plans can attract action under the Environment Protection Act (EPA) 1986 and the National Green Tribunal (NGT) Act 2010.
Section 9 of the PWM rules, 2016 mandates all plastic manufacturers and brand owners to work on modalities for waste collection systems based on EPR. Though neither any guidelines on implementation have been laid out nor any specific annual targets for producers been set.
In addition, the March 27, 2018 amendment to PWM rules substituting “non-recyclable multilayered plastic” with “multi-layered plastic which is non-recyclable or non-energy recoverable or with no alternate use” has further weakened the rules.
This gave producers an escape route by claiming that the packaging material, if not recycled, can be put to some other use. MLP manufacturers used this loophole to continue to use the material.
Under EPR, the producer and brand owners are to, either directly or through a third-party agency, collect the plastic waste back or fund the urban local body to develop collection infrastructure.
So far, EPR implementation in India under the rules is far from satisfactory, except for some who have been collecting waste through producer responsibility organisations (PROs).
Many producers have been following a wait-and-watch policy since 2016. Few of the companies have been working on the take back systems but have neither registered under the EPR clause and nor submitted their EPR plan.
Make polluters pay
By March 14, 2019, 49 brand owners and two producers of plastic had registered under the EPR and submitted the EPR plan with the CPCB. These companies have promised to recollect and dispose 20 per cent of used multi-layered plastic (MLP) and other plastics by their brand. This is eventually escalated to 100 per cent in three years’ time.
According to a CPCB study in 2018, India generates about 25,940 tonnes of plastic waste daily and the largest contributor is the packaging sector. Only 60 per cent of the total waste generated is processed and the remaining 10,000 tonnes is unsegregated, littered and ends up in landfills or oceans or clogs drains.
Earlier, a rag picker used to sell all recyclable waste to a scrap dealer, which used to fetch him some value and remaining non-recyclables were either burnt or disposed of in drains or dumpsites. With PROs in place, backed by the collection targets of producers, the non-recyclable waste is purchased from a rag picker. More investments in this domain help divert MLP from ending up in dumpsites.
“The recent notice by CPCB to non-compliant industries will bring in more investments into waste management stream,” said Ashish Jain, director, Indian Pollution Control Association (IPCA), a Delhi based PRO.
Investments by producers and brand owners in waste management have induced value into the total plastic waste collection cycle. With 20 registered PROs with CPCB, the EPR responsibility of the producer is shifted to a PRO. This has increased the quantum of waste diverted from landfills or oceans.
The EPR is a very loosely packed clause in the rules and needs further guidelines to clarify on the annual producer targets. A provision to track and report to CPCB or respective state pollution control boards on how the collected plastic waste is processed and used needs developing.
“Few of the companies have been investing resources and time to develop systems to take back the plastic waste they generate. Few are working with NGOs, ULBs and few directly on the ground. The recent notice by CPCB will coerce more companies to work in collecting the plastic waste,” said Sonia Garga, programme director, Saahar Zero Waste.
The CPCB’s plastic whip, for the first time, is ready to create a ripple effect to ensure effective implementation of PWM rules. However, comprehensive EPR guidelines defining indicative costs, timelines and collection targets are required to streamline the waste management systems.
An ideal EPR framework should be an integration of all stakeholders. Also, a sustainable infrastructure based on source segregation needs to be developed by producers. Since waste management is civic bodies’ primary responsibility, support by producers can help ensure more sustainable waste management practices.
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