single-use plasticAt the United Nations Conference on Desertification, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that the time has come for the world to say goodbye to single-use plastic.

  • In World Environment Day also, India promised to phase out single-use plastic (SUP) by 2022 with the theme ‘Beat Plastic Pollution’.
  • During the UN Environment Assembly meeting held in Nairobi, in March, India piloted a resolution on phasing out SUP by 2022, later updated to 2025.
What is single-use plastic?
  • Single-use plastics, often referred to as disposal plastics are plastics that are used only once before they are thrown away or recycled.
  • These are used for packaging and include items intended for use only once.
Which products are made of single-use plastic?
  • The most common single-use plastics found are carry bags, plastic drinking bottles, plastic bottle caps, food wrappers, plastic grocery bags, plastic sachets, plastic wrappers for consumer goods, multi-layer packaging used for food packing (e.g. chips packets), straws and stirrers, other types of plastic bags, and foam takeaway containers.
  • The main polymers used for producing single-use plastics are HDPE, LDPE, PET, PP, PS, and EPS.
How big is the plastic industry?
  • According to a UNEP 2018 report, 79 percent of the plastic waste produced ends up going to landfills, dumps or in the environment, 12 percent gets incinerated and only 9 percent has been recycled.
  • PlastIndia Foundation says that India consumes an estimated 5 million tonnes annually. Out of which, 43 percent is plastic manufactured for single-use.
  • About 80 percent of the total plastic produced in India is discarded immediately and will find its way to landfills, drains, rivers and flow into the sea.
  • Currently, only about 4 million tonnes of plastic waste is being recycled in India.
  • According to a Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) study, the plastic industry in India is estimated to grow to 22 million tonnes (MT) a year by 2020 and nearly half of it will be single-use plastic.
  • A study by Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) estimated a $1.3 billion economic impact of marine plastics in the Asia-Pacific region alone.
  • The daunting problem should be addressed by ensuring cut down in consumption and investing in the recycling sector.
Measures were taken by India to reduce Single use plastic
  • A nation-wide ban is set to be imposed on as many as six items on October 2 this year, including on plastic bags, cups, plates, small bottles, straws and certain types of sachets. The ban is expected to be comprehensive and will cover the manufacturing, usage, and import of such items.
  • India already has Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2018, one of whose key features is that the industries that make products using plastic and hence generate plastic waste have to collect a fixed percentage of the waste back every year.
  • The State Pollution Control Boards, as well as municipalities, have the responsibility to ensure that plastic waste is collected and sent to recycling units.
  • Indian Railways is planning to conduct a massive shaman “ to focus on the collection of plastic waste.”
  • Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras has recently demonstrated an environment-friendly strategy to degrade the chemically inert and physically stable plastic fluoropolymer — polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) of which Teflon is made. Similar studies can be made use of to employ large scale models of degrading plastic without causing any harm to the environment.
Some successful examples in Plastic Management
  • Operation Blue Mountain in Nilgiris, Tamil Nadu- The campaign led by Supriya Sahu, the district collector in 2001 to ban the use of plastic in the district played a very important part in unclogging the river sources and springs in the popular hill station of Nilgiris. The experiment has been documented as the best practice on governance by the erstwhile Planning Commission and UNDP. The campaign used pictures of choking animals to successfully create awareness and sensitivity among people regarding the cause.
  • Sikkim: First State to Ban Plastics Bottles & Disposable Foam- Sikkim in two recent notifications has decided to manage its waste in a more efficient and eco-friendly manner by banning the use of plastic water bottles in all government meetings and programs. It has also banned the use of disposable foam products in an effort to decrease its carbon footprint even further.
Way Forward
  • Improvements in waste management - Bans on plastic bags and Styrofoam items can only lead to limited results. Only by better waste management systems and circular product reuse can we hope to achieve long-term impacts.
  • Promotion of eco-friendly alternatives- Governments can support the development and promotion of sustainable and economic alternatives with the help of industry. By supporting projects which upscale or recycle single-use items, governments can contribute to the adoption of eco-friendly alternatives.
  • Social awareness and public pressure- Only by creating social awareness and spreading education can a gradual, transformational change in consumers be achieved. Brief or stand-alone awareness campaigns have not proved to be very successful in making any lasting impact. Public pressure can act as a trigger for policy decision-making. We can take an example of the “Bye Bye Plastic Bags’’ initiative of Bali, a social campaign led by youth to mobilize people in Bali to say no to plastic bags. Started with two teenagers campaigning for over four years to get plastic bags banned from the island, it led the governor eventually signed a memorandum of understanding to phase out plastic bags by 2018.
  • Voluntary reduction strategies and agreements- Even with an increase in recycling, Reduction is the only viable option to lessen the number of plastic bags and the amount of single-use plastic packaging. Reduction strategies, as opposed to bans and taxes, do not attempt to force sudden changes in the market and hence are more successful.
  • Policy instruments- Policy interventions to reduce single-use plastic bags and Styrofoam products need to be constantly updated and amended to keep up with the industry and scientific progress.
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