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Down To Earth Magazine(September 2022): Plastic Waste 2

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  • 58% of petrochemicals produced in India are used to make plastics but there is no policy to fix the responsibility of petrochemical companies.
  • India recycled 12% and burnt 20% of the 3.5 million tonnes of plastic waste it generated in 2019-20. There is no information on the remaining 68% of plastic waste, which most likely ends up in dumpsites and landfill.


How petrochemical sector feeds the plastic industry?


  • The petrochemical sector feeds the plastic industry, making it the first stage of the life cycle of plastics.
  • While coal was the main source of plastics before the World War-II, it is now used at a lesser extent and plastics are being produced from a mix of oil and gas.
  • Currently, 99 per cent of plastics is derived from fossil fuels. The remaining 1 per cent is derived from different bio-based sources such as corn starch.
  • All plastics derived from fossil fuel and a substantial share (40 per cent) of bio-based plastics are non-biodegradable.
  • Yet, the petrochemical industry’s role is usually overlooked when we talk about environmental plastic pollution.
  • In 2018-19, India produced 29 million tonnes of petrochemicals and almost 58 per cent of them were used to manufacture plastics. In fact, crude oil production is set to witness an increase—not to produce fossil fuels, but to manufacture more plastics.


Stages in the life cycle of plastics


First Stage

  • The petrochemical sector is the first stage of the life cycle of plastics.
  • The domestic petrochemicals sector is dominated by five private players, whose production capacity is roughly thrice as much compared to seven public sector undertakings and joint ventures.

Second Stage

  • The second stage in the life cycle of plastics involves the sale of pellets by petrochemical companies to plastic producers, who manufacture different types of plastic using a host of additives and chemicals.
  • This is the stage where plastics acquire their final form. According to Delhi-based non-profit Centre for Financial Accountability, India has over 30,000 plastic producers, the majority of which are small- and medium-sized businesses. These units operate in a complex ecosystem. For instance, several producers come together to manufacture a single multilayered plastic (mlp).

Third Stage

  • The last leg of the plastic life cycle is the management of waste.
  • Despite being the main focus of policymakers, this stage continues to be plagued by numerous issues that impede the safe recycling and disposal of plastics


What is MLP(multilayered plastic)?


  • It is basically a sandwich of different kinds of plastic.
  • According to the Plastic Waste Management (PWM) Rules 2016, Multi-Layer Plastic (MLP) is “any material used for packaging and having at least one layer of plastic as the main ingredient in combination with one or more layers of materials such as paper, paper board, polymeric materials, metalised layers or aluminium foil, either in the form of laminate or co-extruded structure.”
  •  MLPs are a favourite material for the food industry as it protects sensitive food products and hence longer shelf life.


Poor Management Of Plastic waste in the country


What is the Management of plastic waste?

  • Management of plastic waste involves two distinct steps: collection and recycling or end-of-life disposal.
  • In India, while the onus of collection rests with local government bodies, producers, importers and brand owners, it is mostly managed by the informal sector, driven by ragpickers.
  • As high as 42-86 per cent of the plastic waste in India flows through the informal sector to material recovery facilities operated by multinational corporations in partnership with local governments or otherwise.

Poor Recycling

  • The government claims that almost 60 per cent of plastic waste is recycled in the country, though such high recycling is only restricted to pet bottles that account for 12 per cent of the total plastic waste, according to the audit by Break Free From Plastic.
  • The real recycling rate stands at only 12 per cent, shows the cse report that analysed data with the Central Pollution Control Board (cpcb).
  • Another 20 per cent of the plastic waste is channelised for end-of-life solutions like co-incineration and plastic-to-fuel, which means they are burnt in the name of recycling. In other words, 68 per cent of the plastic waste in the country eventually gets disposed of unscientifically, either in the open or at landfills.

Reasons for Poor Recycle

  • Ragpickers majorly collect PET. In the process, the majority of plastic waste is hardly collected or recycled.
  • Brand owners are meeting their EPR commitments by outsourcing the work of collection and recycling to third parties.


What is EPR?


  • The August 2021 amendment of the 2016 Rules prohibited the production, sale, and use of single-use plastic (defined as an item intended to be used once for the same purpose before being disposed or recycled) after July 1, 2022.
  • Soon after, the February 2022 amendment exempted plastic packaging, which accounts for roughly 59 per cewaste in the country, from the single-use plastics ban. This was done by the introduction of extended producer responsibility (EPR) on producers, importers, brand owners and plastic waste processors.
  • The list of exempted plastic packaging includes mlps, flexible packagings such as candy wrappers, rigid plastics such as pet bottles and compostable plastics.


Way Forward


  • To make the plastic industry take responsibility.
  • Strengthening the plastic inventory and generating credible data. Like, Centralized Extended Producers Responsibility Portal for plastic packaging by CPCB.
  • India can also consider introducing deposit refund schemes to increase waste collection.




India must curb plastic production, not just manage plastic waste for that the country needs plastic waste production and recycling numbers.

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