Taking forward the call issued by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to eliminate single-use plastics, the Union environment ministry has notified comprehensive guidelines on extended producer responsibility (EPR) for plastic packaging. With the notification of the Plastic Waste Management (Amendment) Rules 2022, the environment minister said India had a framework to strengthen the circular economy of packaging waste. EPR entails that the producers of plastic products used for specific purposes – in this case for packaging – would be responsible for collecting and managing the plastic waste in that enterprise.
Announcing the notification of the new Plastic Waste Management (Amendment) Rules 2022 through social media recently, union minister Bhupender Yadav said the guidelines provided a framework to promote alternatives to plastic. “The guidelines provide a framework to strengthen the circular economy of plastic packaging waste and promote development of new alternatives to plastics. They provide a roadmap for businesses to move towards sustainable plastic packaging,” Yadav said in the tweet. According to the notification, the new guidelines shall come into force with immediate effect. The new rules classify plastics into four categories: category 1 will include rigid plastic packaging; category 2 will include flexible plastic packaging of single layer or multilayer (more than one layer with different types of plastic), plastic sheets and covers made of plastic sheet, carry bags, plastic sachet or pouches. Multi-layered plastic packaging (at least one layer of plastic and at least one layer of material other than plastic) will come under category 3 and plastic sheet or like used for packaging as well as carry bags made of compostable plastics fall under category 4. With respect to plastic packaging, the EPR covers reuse, recycling, use of recycled plastic content and end of life disposal by producers, importers and brand-owners.
According to the new rules, the producers, importers and brand-owners shall have to provide the details of recycling certificates only from registered recyclers along with the details of quantity sent for end-of-life disposal, by June 30 of next financial year while filing annual returns on the online portal. The details provided by producers, importers and brand-owners and registered plastic waste processors would be cross-checked by the online portal, it said. In case of difference, the lower figure would be considered towards fulfilment of EPR obligation of producers, importers and brand-owners. The certificates shall be subject to verification by Central Pollution Control Board or State Pollution Control Board or Pollution Control Committee, as the case may be, it said. The government has also called for establishing of a centralised online portal by Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) for the registration as well as filing of annual returns by producers, importers and brand-owners, plastic waste processors of plastic packaging waste by March 31. The online system developed by CPCB for the registration as well as for filing of returns by producers, importers and brand-owners shall reflect the plastic packaging material introduced in the market by them in a financial year. It shall also reflect the details regarding the audit of the producers, importers and brand-owners as well as recyclers or other waste processors of plastic packaging waste, it said. The centralised portal would act as the single point data repository with respect to orders and guidelines related to implementation of EPR for plastic packaging under Plastic Waste Management Rule, 2016.
Environmental compensation shall be levied based upon polluter pays principle, with respect to non-fulfilment of EPR targets by producers, importers and brand owners, for the purpose of protecting and improving the quality of the environment and preventing, controlling and abating environment pollution, the new rules said. Payment of environmental compensation shall not absolve the producers, importers and brand owners of the obligations set out in these guidelines. The unfulfilled EPR obligations for a particular year will be carried forward to the next year for a period of three years, it said. As per the new notification, the government has announced setting up of a committee which shall be constituted by the CPCB under chairpersonship of CPCB chairman, to recommend measures to the environment ministry for effective implementation of EPR, including amendments to EPR guidelines. The committee shall monitor the implementations of EPR and also take such measures as required for removal of difficulties. The committee shall also be tasked with the guiding and supervision of the online portal, including approval of requisite forms or pro forma, it said. The committee shall comprise representatives from the concerned ministries/departments: Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs; Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises; Department of Drinking Water and Sanitation; Department of Chemical and Petrochemicals; Bureau of Indian Standards; Three State Pollution Control Boards or Pollution Control Committees; Central Institute of Plastic Engineering and Technology (CIPET); National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) ; three industry associations, and any other invitee as decided by the chairperson of the committee. Under the new guidelines, State Pollution Control Boards and Pollution Control Committees shall submit annual report on EPR portal with respect to its fulfilment by producers, importers and brand-owners, which include manufacturers of plastic packaging material, and plastic waste processors in the state/Union territory to the CPCB. The report shall also be submitted to the state-level monitoring committee constituted under the Plastic Waste Management Rules 2016. The State Pollution Control Boards or Pollution Control Committees shall also submit an annual report with respect to recyclers or end of life disposal in the state or UT to the CPCB by July 31 of next year, it said.
UNEA agreement on plastic pollution a climate action landmark
In what is hailed as the most important climate treaty after the Paris Agreement in 2015, the leaders of 175 countries agreed on a global pact to end plastic pollution. The United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) has agreed to bring in a binding global treaty by the end of 2024. Representatives of around 200 countries concluded the UNEA meeting in Nairobi, Kenya on a positive note. The UNEA resolution addresses the entire lifecycle of plastic from production to disposal. The UNEA said the success of the treaty would depend on the final terms of the agreement, which could see the intent diluted to accommodate the interests of member nations. The meeting adopted a resolution entitled, ‘End Plastic Pollution: Towards an internationally legally binding instrument’. The agreement proposes a road map for negotiations that will kick off in May.
There is a mounting concern over plastic pollution. Global plastic production is more than 300 million tonnes per year. It is estimated that around 8 million tonnes of plastic waste enter the oceans every year, comprising 85% of marine litter. The United Nations Environment Programme projects pollution to double by 2025. Plastics bottles, food packages and bags are the biggest contributors to the menace of plastic pollution. A study conducted last year found that 20 large companies contributed more than half of the single-use plastic items that litter the world. At least 40% of the global plastics output is used in packaging and just 9% of it is recycled. This means both production and waste are rising. Global production of plastics may touch one billion tonnes by the mid-century. Various studies have shown that greenhouse gas emissions from plastic production, use and disposal will account for 15% of the permitted emissions under the Paris Agreement by 2050 needed to stop the impact of climate change. So, cutting the use of plastics is key to achieving the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The treaty will require signatories to commit to cleaning plastic waste. The two-year timeframe for reaching the agreement is unusually fast for the UN system. The efforts towards the pact were initiated in 2017, but the Trump administration’s opposition derailed the initiative. The US reversed its stance in November 2021 and announced its support for a binding treaty. This prompted the UN agency to hasten efforts for the agreement. As the negotiators arrived in the Kenyan capital in February, more than 140 world nations, 100 multinational companies, and 300 scientists had already announced their support to the cause.