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The state of plastic waste management

As per the MoEFCC report published in 2015, India generates about 62 million tonnes of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) annually; waste generation in India is increasing at a very high rate. This increase poses both a concern and an opportunity, writes Ashish Jain, Director, Indian Pollution Control Association.

Efficient management of waste is essential to save the environment and health of communities, and to build an economy around waste. Waste material as a resource for economic activities has gained relevance in recent times. The model of circular economy rests on the principle that nothing goes to waste; products should be designed in a way that after primary consumption, the residue will come back to the system to produce a different range of products.

Increasing amounts of waste means an increase in supply of waste as a resource to recycling industries. However, littering, poor collection and lack of source segregation of waste poses a concern in the concept of circular economy. As mixed and uncollected waste cannot be treated as a raw material or resource by any industry, such waste finds its way to dump yards, landfills, water bodies and open spaces. Hence, collection of segregated waste can help in avoiding this problem.

In India, on average, only 60% of waste is being collected by different agencies, out of which only 16% is recovered or treated or brought back to the circular economy. This low rate of recovery is possibly because of high contamination of waste; it is mixed with many unwanted materials like sludge, leading to a higher cost of segregation. In this way, we lose the value of waste as a resource. However, if waste generators are careful in keeping their waste separately at the source of its generation, the value of waste can be multiplied.

There are lots of concerns, issues and challenges related to plastic and its waste. Considering this, MoEFCC has notified Plastic Waste Management Rules in 2016, which is amended several times to effectively manage the plastic waste generated in the country.

Plastic is being consumed across multiple sectors but packaging is the largest end-use market segment, accounting for just over 40% of total plastic usage. There are estimates that around 50% of plastic is used under Single Use Plastic categories. The maximum consumption is of the plastic carry bag, of which approximately 500 billion units are used worldwide.

In August 2022, MoEFCC published a notification to ban 19 categories of Single Use Plastic items to reduce the consumption of plastic packaging and provide an opportunity for alternatives to plastic. Many such policies and guidelines have been introduced for effective and efficient waste management and transferred responsibility to multiple stakeholders, including producer, brand and importer of plastic packaging. MoEFCC has also introduced a policy to encourage circular economy through use of recycled plastic material in packaging. These all are welcome steps and need to be enforced by state authorities.

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