This article is written by Pratishtha Mandal, currently pursuing LLB from Campus Law Centre (Law faculty, Delhi University). In this article, the author has talked about Plastic Waste Management Rules (2016), and amendments to these rules. Further, the author has also looked upon how the Indian Rules compared to the Global rules and regulations.
The First Plastic Waste Management Rule came in 2011 which was further revised in 2016. Swachh Bharat Mission came into the Picture in 2014, Subramaniam committee again and around the same time. National Action Plan for Swachh Bharat Mission revised the Central Public Health and Environmental Engineering Organisation (CPHEEO) Manual on Solid Waste in 2016 along with others like Solid Waste Management Rule, Electronic Waste, Plastic Waste, Bio-Medical Waste, and Demolition Waste were also added. So, as it can be seen in terms of rulemaking that our Ministry of Environment and Climate Change along with partnership with different stakeholders, a number of different rules have been made in the country. In this article, since the focus is on plastic waste, we will be mostly talking about Plastic Waste Rules. This will be in the terms of Solid Waste Rules, which also deals with a little bit of hazardous Waste Rule. Further, dealing with plastic and Bio-medical waste as well. So, all these aspects of plastic have been taken and put into the Plastic Waste Management Rules which we will be taking in a little bit detail in this particular article.
What was the need for having separate Plastic Waste Management Rules?
There has been an excessive usage of plastic in quantity and it is becoming quite a significant portion of the waste stream. There was a thought in Global countries that we need to have a separate set of rules which just focus on plastic because plastic is becoming a nuisance or, what we can say, a nightmare. The rule is the Plastic Waste Management Rule not Plastic Management Rule. So, once it comes into the waste stream then it’s a problem, plastic products by themselves are not harmful. Plastic is a very nice material because it does a lot of functions, it does not degrade, can be used in many applications and it stays in the environment which acts negatively. It does not degrade so it just breaks down into smaller pieces and these pieces end up in the river and from the river into the ocean. Oceans contain fishes and this is how it becomes the part of the marine and later on causes chaos like environmental as well as human health problems.
Thus, discriminatory disposal of plastic has become a major threat to the Environment. In particular, the plastic carry bags are the biggest contributors of the littered waste and every year millions of plastic bags end up in the environment through the soil, water bodies, watercourses etc and it takes an average of 1000 years for them to decompose completely. Therefore, there is a major need for plastic waste management to tackle all plastic waste-related problems.
Plastic waste management rules
In 1999, there was a rule which was looking at plastic waste like a Recycled Plastic Manufacture and Usage Rules. So when you need to try recycling the plastic you need to make sure that you do it in an environmentally safe way. This led to the Plastic Waste (Management and Handling) Rules (2011), which included plastic waste management and for the first time, the plastic waste management was thought about in 2011.
Later on, in 2016 the government came with The Plastic Waste Management Rules which were just a modified version of earlier rules of 2011 but since the government wanted to revise all the different rules, they put a one year kind of date and there were some modifications for sure. There was the suppression of these earlier plastic waste management rules and then they were notified on 18 March 2016. There were some modifications of course from 2011 to 2016 and 2016 became more comprehensive, a lot of different stakeholders were also included which were not there in 2011 which is true for other waste streams as well. For example, even the rural areas were included because earlier the thought was that plastic waste problem is only centred to urban areas alone but as the government, based on the feedback received, felt that there is also a lot of plastic related stuff showing up in the waste stream of rural areas as well. Mere replacement of plastic unless we have a viable alternative to it which can take the place of plastic is futile but can ban certain items instead.
The Plastic Waste Management Rules of 2016 provide us with the sharpest measures taken against plastic use in India. The most significant feature of these rules is that the plastic manufacturers and retail establishments that use plastic as their main component are legally bound to follow the system of collecting back the plastic waste which is known as ‘Extended Producer Responsibility’. As there is no environment-friendly alternative available in the market to plastic yet so the country needs to move towards adopting a regime to treat plastic waste instead of making itself busy in talking about banning products or plastic altogether which is not feasibly possible right now in India. The Rules laid down by the government to help the procedure to do that are as follows:
- Pre- Registration Fee collection: The Rules guide that there needs to be a fee, which should be collected through the process of pre-registration of the producers, importers of plastic carry bags and multilayered packaging and also vendors for selling the plastic in the market, to help establishing a waste management system.
- Responsibility of Waste Generators, Extended Producer’s Liability and Collect back system: There needs to be a waste collecting procedure followed by all the producers, importers and brands who have introduced plastic carry bags, multilayered plastic sachets, pouches or packings in the market within six months from the date of publication of the notification of these Rules to collect the plastic waste back which is generated by them. Individuals and bulk generators like commercial establishments, offices, industries, event organizers have to segregate the plastic waste at source, hand it over and also pay user fee as prescribed by ULB (Urban Local Bodies) spot fine in case of any violation of rules. The concept of EPR is to fund the companies which can come up with an idea to expertise in plastic waste management techniques. All these companies which are selling products which are leading to plastic waste creation can be asked to pay a certain amount of money based on the volume that they sell of those kinds of products and that can be put in a pool of money where a company X, which has an expertise in the waste management, come into picture and further helped by the government in pooling such money leads to better waste management rather than expecting other country or companies to manage their plastic waste management.
The concept of EPR here is that rather than having each company trying to give its own EPR framework, let us bring the different companies together. And it can not be left on the companies to do it because they will never do it, the government has to kind of handhold them on the same table trying to put a rupee figure that, based on their turnover, they have put this much percentage in this kitty and that will fund plastic waste management programs and that can be any companies which can come up with an idea whose expertise to do it can be evaluated by the technical committee by looking at the financial viability. So there has to be a process in place and that’s how things will evolve like in other world streams like European countries and other places as well. Of Course, it takes time but it will be at least a path which is sustainable and can achieve something rather than other measures which work in the long term.
- Utilising the Plastic Waste: The Rules advised in encouraging the plastic waste for road and construction use or energy recovery or waste conversion to oil etc and to come with new ideas and ways to profitably utilise the waste and further address the problem of waste disposal in the country.
- Prohibition: The Rules also ask to make a compulsory increase in the thickness of carrying bags and plastic sheets from 40micron to 50 micron. This will ultimately help in reducing the plastic waste as there will be an increase in the price of the plastic bags in the market and people will restrict themselves from buying and selling these plastic bags because of their high prices.
- Scope of Application: The Rules advise the local bodies and Gram panchayats to act responsibly in implementing and coordinating a waste management system within the villages and their people.
- Responsibility of retailers, street vendors, etc: The rules further levied some fine on the retailers or street vendors who sell or give commodities in the plastic bags, plastic sheets, multilayered packaging or the covers made of plastic which have not been manufactured, marked or labelled according to these rules.
- Reuse of plastic waste: The plastic waste generated should be managed and re-used by using the different applications which will enhance the recycling process of the plastic.
As per the Plastic Waste Management Rules 2016, there was categorical pricing levied on the carry bags but this was deleted with the help of an amendment made earlier in the same year. The centralised registration system was also issued through this amendment and also taken under consideration the ease of doing business for producers, recyclers and manufacturers by introducing an automatic mechanism for registration for the same.
The Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016 aim to:
- Increase the minimum thickness of the carry bags made of plastic to 50 microns instead of 40 microns and also further specify the minimum thickness to be 50 microns for the plastic sheets to aid the better collection and recycling of the plastic waste.
- To broaden the scope of the applicability from urban areas to rural areas as plastic waste has made its way towards the rural areas too.
- To introduce the role of Producers and generators to act responsibly towards the waste management system and to further introduce the collect back system of plastic waste by the different brands, producers and owners according to the extended producers’ responsibility system brought into light via these rules.
- Through introducing the pre-registration system the government aims at collecting the plastic waste management fee from the producers and importers from selling these plastic bags in the market and contributing towards the plastic waste for establishing a better waste management system.
- It further encouraged the use of plastic for the construction of roads as per the guidelines issued by the Indian Road Congress or energy recovery or conversion of waste to oil etc. Better utilization of the waste produced.
There has been an attempt to promote and improve plastic waste management system rather than imposing a blanket ban on the plastic products altogether as there has not yet been found a good eco-friendly alternative to plastic which can replace the plastic in India.
Despite the introduction of the Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016 along with the amendments made two years later, there are still many towns and cities which are not capable enough to achieve what these rules want them to because of different reasons. Biggest Municipal Corporations even after the aid given with the distressing burden of plastic waste have not been able to properly instrument the segregation of waste like collecting recyclable plastic, non-recyclable plastic and other waste solely which needs to be processed by material recovery facilities by different companies. This is leading to an increase in crisis amongst the failure of reporting the true intensity of Plastic waste.
There has been a significant increase in the per capita consumption of plastic from 11kg in 2014-15 to 20kgs by 2020 according to the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry data and also about 43% increase in the usage of single-use packaging with poor rates of recovery. An amendment took place in 2018 regarding the Plastic waste management rules, which introduced a six-month deadline fixed for the producers to arrange for the recovery methods of waste in the partnership with the State Urban Developments has shown some affirmative progress. There has not been a use of any numerical symbols to mark the plastic like 1 for PET, 4 for Low-density Polyethylene, 5 for Polypropylene, and so on to make the recycling of the plastic waste using the correct industrial process.
There has been a visible significant decline in the volume of non-recyclables because of recycling that must be disposed of by using methods like plasma pyrolysis, co-processing in the cement kilns or landfilling. The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) issued notice to 52 companies in total, asking them to list their plans to fulfil their extended producer responsibility requirements.
Suggestions and reforms
The Plastic waste management rules have been modified but this has been a work in progress. It is not that things were done just in 2016 and the government should try to develop rules and regulations for better management of that. Again we have one of the strictest rules in the world but the implementation even in the plastic waste sector as we saw in the US sector and other sectors are still lacking. We still need to manage the infrastructure in this kind of a waste stream, which is not there until now. There is some work being done in bits and pieces here and there, but in general, we are still lacking a lot of infrastructure to support these rules. We need to focus on the overhauling of the plastic waste management system.
LawSikho has created a telegram group for exchanging legal knowledge, referrals and various opportunities. You can click on this link and join: