In line with the clarion call given by the Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi to phase out single use plastic, the Central Government and State Government have been taking resolute steps for elimination of single use plastics. A defining step to curb pollution caused by littered and unmanaged plastic waste was taken on 1st July 2022, when the ban was imposed on identified single use plastic items, which have high littering potential and low utility, throughout the country.
The strategy adopted by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC), Government of India, for tackling unmanaged and littered plastic waste has two pillars viz. enforcement of ban on identified single use plastic items, which cannot be collected, and implementation extended producer responsibility on plastic packaging. In this regard, earlier MoEFCC had brought out notification to ban identified single use plastic on 12th August 2021 and also notified Guidelines on Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) for Plastic Packaging on 16th February 2022.
The Guidelines stipulated mandatory targets on EPR, recycling of plastic packaging waste, reuse of rigid plastic packaging and use of recycled plastic content. The Guidelines also mandated implementation of EPR on plastic packaging through a centralized online portal developed by CPCB in order to ensure ease of doing business while complying with statutory obligations.
From around 310 Producers, Importers and Brand Owners (PIBOs) registered for EPR, before the notification of the EPR Guidelines on 16th February 2022, the number of PIBOs registered on the centralized EPR portal on plastic packaging has gone up to around 5400 PIBOs, till date. Significantly, a total plastic packaging of 2.26 million tonnes has been covered under EPR for the year 2022-23. In order to contrast, the total plastic waste generated in the country during the year 2019-20 is around 3.4 million tonnes.
Rapid penetration of alternatives is a key for successful implementation of the ban on identified single use plastic items. In order to provide assistance to MSME enterprises transitioning away from single use plastic items to eco-alternatives, the Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises has made provisions in their ongoing schemes. Steps are also being taken to promote manufacturing of alternatives to banned single use plastic items by bringing in technology and innovations, facilitating credit availability and access, promoting availability and adoption of alternatives, and building capacities of MSMEs.
Further, in order to spur innovation in the area of development of eco-alternatives, MoEFCC had organized an India Plastic Challenge Hackathon, 2021. Two innovative solutions for eco-alternatives were awarded under the Hackathon viz. a rigid packaging material made from rice stubble, which substitutes for thermocol and not only addresses plastic pollution but will also help in reducing the pollution caused by burning of rice stubble and a flexible packaging film made from seaweeds to be used for wrapping and carry bag applications
A national expo on eco-alternatives was organized in Chennai on 26th and 27th September 2022. More than 150 enterprises and startups manufacturing eco-alternatives participated from across the country. The eco-alternatives include sea-weed, bagasse, rice and wheat bran, rice stubble, plant and agricultural residue, banana and areca leaves, jute and cloth. These interventions would divert consumption of plastics to eco-alternatives such as natural materials.
State Governments have been taking initiatives in promotion of eco-alternatives to ban single use plastic items. These initiatives are in line with the Lifestyle For Environment (LiFE) mission. Some states have set up “Bartan Bhandars” at village panchayat levels for use in events in place of banned single use plastic cutlery promoting reuse cutlery rather than using disposable cutlery. Self Help Groups have been mobilized in the states to stitch cloth bags and in some cases cloth bag vending machines have been set up in market places. Some State Governments have taken up voluntary measures to make government offices and marketplaces single use plastic free.
Coupled with rapid penetration of alternatives, enforcement of the ban is important. States and Union territories are undertaking regular enforcement drives to implement a ban on identified single use plastic items and on plastic carry bags having thickness less than one hundred twenty microns, covering fruit and vegetable markets, wholesale markets, local markets, flower vendors, units manufacturing plastic carry bags etc. Random checking at border checkpoints to stop inter-state movement of banned single use plastic items is also being undertaken. Special pan India enforcement drives have been undertaken in months of October, November and December, 2022 by Central Pollution Control Board, State Pollution Control Boards and Pollution Control Committees.
All thirty-six States/UTs have constituted the Special Task Force under the chairpersonship of the Chief Secretary / Administrator for elimination of identified single use plastic items and effective plastic waste management. A National Level Taskforce has also been constituted by MoEFCC for taking coordinated efforts to eliminate identified single use plastic items and effective implementation of Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016. Four meetings of the National Task Force have been held so far.
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