With a changing consumer landscape, single-use, low-quality plastics are contributing to the growing waste problem in rural India
Most Indian villages do not have any waste management infrastructure, a study released by non-profit Pratham Education Foundation September 18, 2022, said.
Public waste bins were observed in only 36 per cent of the 700 villages across 15 states that were covered in the study. Just 29 per cent had a community waste collection vehicle, while less than half the villages had access to a sanitation worker or safai karamchari. These trends were observed across all states and districts.
Due to the lack of formal infrastructure, 90 per cent of the villages primarily depended on informal waste collectors or kabadiwalas, the study titled Plastic STORI: Study of Rural India, said.
The kabadiwalas visited villages at least once in a week. But they did not accept all kinds of waste and were very selective about it. Waste such as paper, metal and cardboard was readily collected by them but single-use plastics such as wrappers, sachets and plastic packaging were rejected, the study found.
Such single-use, low-quality plastics were contributing to the growing waste problem in rural India, Pratham, said.
This would worsen further since there was a pronounced lack of mitigation systems to address the growing waste problem, the study said. In addition, the lack of awareness among the rural population further posed a serious threat to the well-being of rural India, it noted.
Some 67 per cent of over 8,400 rural household preferred to burn plastic waste not bought by kabadiwalas. Nearly three-fourths of the households burning waste were unaware about the ill-effects of burning plastic waste.
But very few villages received funds for awareness raising on plastic waste management. The study indicates that unless action is taken, over 0.6 million villages will become distributed islands of trash.
So, the infrastructure to manage waste in rural India is more important now than ever. This is because of the increasing presence of the Fast Moving Consumer Goods sector in rural India and the “changing consumption landscape”.
Consumption of packaged goods, both food and non-food usually packed in plastic wrappers / sachets has seen an enormous jump in the last 10-15 years
The study has called for segregation of waste at source. It has also urged companies to come forward to set up or support a system for picking up the segregated waste and sending it to appropriate destinations.
Relying on an informal scrap dealer system is not going to be enough for managing waste in villages, Kedar Sohoni, founder of non-profit Green Communities Foundation (GCF), said.
He called upon the companies to support collection and transportation of low value plastic from the villages as part of extended producer responsibility by law.
“Those brands who are putting material like hard-to-recycle multilayer plastic into the market, need to support costs involved in setting up and running a reverse logistics system.
“This is the biggest gap as on date, since the current market rates do not support collection and transportation of low value plastic from the villages,” he was quoted as saying in the study.
Each kilogram of post-consumer multilayer plastic waste can have anything between 100 and 700 individual wrappers.
The maximum retail price (MRP) of the goods sold, which were in these wrappers, ranges between Rs 5,000 and Rs 15,000. So if the brand spends even one per cent of its MRP on setting up or supporting a system for taking back plastic waste, it will mean that Rs 50-150 will be available for this activity per kg of plastic generated, according to GCF.
This will be more than enough to ensure a large chunk of plastic waste which today gets dumped, burnt or littered, will get collected and reach the appropriate destination like recycler / coprocessor, it added.
India, on average, generates 9.49 tonnes per annum of plastic waste according to government estimates. But less than 10 per cent of this is recycled effectively.
Centre for Science and Environment, a Delhi-based non-profit, had flagged rising plastic consumption, especially in Indian cities in a report.
The Government of India banned single-use plastics July 1, 2022. But for this to be effective, both rural and urban India need to understand and act to address the grim situation.
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