Waste

Why NGT rap on Amazon, Flipkart on 16-yr-old's petition is significant

Green bench directive against e-commerce giants come at a time when plastic waste is choking us

 
By Swati Singh Sambyal
Last Updated: Monday 28 October 2019

The National Green Tribunal on October 22, 2019 sought a report from the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) within two months on the usage of plastic packaging by Amazon.com Inc and Flipkart Pvt Ltd on a plea by 16-year-old Aditya Dubey. He sought directions to e-tailers to stop the excessive use of plastic.

Dubey filed the petition through his guardian, seeking enforcement of his right to live in a plastic-free environment. “Single-use plastic breaks down into smaller fragments known as microplastics and then contaminates our soil and water,” according to the petition.

The e-commerce giants were environmentally irresponsible, Dubey alleged. The petition, filed through advocate Divya Prakash Pande, came after the continued use of plastic packaging by the companies despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call for a nation-wide boycott of single-use plastic on October 2.

The challenge of plastics

Approximately 25,940 tonnes per day (TPD) plastic waste was generated in India, according to CPCB’s 2015 report on Assessment and Quantification of Plastics Waste Generation in Major Cities.

Around 15,600 TPD of this (60 per cent) gets recycled, leaving behind nearly 10,000 tonnes every day. Typically, a compactor truck can accommodate 10 tonnes. So it will take 1,000 such trucks every day to transport this 10,000 tonnes.

This huge non-recycled bulk is what eventually ends up clogging our drains, rivers and seas, or simply as the litter that we see everywhere around us. (https://www.cseindia.org/single-use-plastic-9716)

Among the cities, Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Ahmedabad and Hyderabad rank among the top generators of plastic waste. Considering most of these cities have online food and delivery services, this further adds to the quantum of plastics and packaging material in these cities. 

Out of the total plastic waste generated, around 94 per cent comprises thermoplastic content (such as PET, LDPE, HDPE, PVC, etc), which is recyclable. The remaining 6 per cent belongs to the family of thermoset and other categories of plastics such as SMC, FRP, multi-layered, thermocol etc, which are non-recyclable.

However, only HDPE, PET and PVC plastics are recycled in India, according to an assessment by Delhi-based non-profit Centre for Science and Environment. Most of the waste is down-cycled into lower-grade plastic products. PP, PS and LDPE plastics are partially recyclable, but they are usually not recycled due to economic unviability of the process.

Approximately 70 per cent the plastic packaging products in India (polybags, pouches for packing gutkha, paan masala, food items, etc) go waste fast – discarded and disposed after a single use, according to the 2015 CPCB report.

Some 66 per cent plastic waste in India comprised of mixed waste sourced mainly from households and residential localities, the report added. These would be different types of plastics mixed together or plastic mixed with other solid waste, which would bring down recyclability.

The abundance of plastic production in the past two decades has triggered a host of problems in India. 

Excessive plastics in e-commerce

The e-commerce companies are covered under the Plastic Waste Management (PWM) Rules, 2016, under which they need to comply with extended producer responsibility (listed under Section 9 of the PWM Rules).

Due to the lack of effective monitoring and implementation, many e-commerce companies continue to use excessive plastic in packaging.

“For example, a pen, a book, a scissor, or even a mobile charging wire, all of which are unbreakable come wrapped in sheets of plastic and bubble wrap though there is no necessity to use the same,” Dubey said in his petition.

“Once the delivery is completed, this plastic waste gets thrown away in the garbage by the consumers and the same ends up at land-fill sites, which damages the environment, due to non-biodegradability,” he added.

Earlier, in September, both Amazon and Flipkart committed to reduce single-use plastic. Amazon India claimed it was developing plastic-free alternatives for bubble wraps and mailers. It said it was aiming to scrap single-use plastic packaging by June 2020 and have 50 per cent of all shipments at zero net carbon by 2030.

Flipkart last week said it would eliminate single-use plastic in packaging and shift to 100 per cent recycled plastic by 2021.

However, is this enough?

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