World Environment Day: To counter single-use plastic, realistic 'extended producer responsibility' targets must be set

On 5 june, even before the dew settled on the greens of Central Park in Connaught Place, people were amused to find Jaggi Vasudev sitting with his face wrapped in a puckered plastic packet. But why was the spiritual guru there, sitting, under the Tri-colour wafting 365 ft high up in the Delhi sky?

The domestic consumption of plastic is expected to touch 20 million metric tonnes by 2020 and Vasudev was only trying to make a case for an India whose dependence on plastic has far exceeded its need for the polymer. As per the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), a million plastic bottles are bought each minute and 500 billion plastic bags are used each year. "By 2050, there could be more plastic in the oceans than fish. Above all, plastic is even getting into vegetables, meat consumption, milk and getting into our system. I'm talking about a simple solution and that is the ban on the single-use plastic," remarked Jaggi Vasudev. From straws to coffee cups to plastic cutlery, anything that is used once and stays in the environment forever can be done away with if people adopt practices like keeping their own cutlery handy.

Source: A report on Plastic Industry Knowledge and Strategic Partner; January 2016

Source: A report on Plastic Industry Knowledge and Strategic Partner; January 2016

Dia Mirza, actress and UN Environment Goodwill Ambassador, also present at the event, gave the example of an image of a little girl drinking coconut water straight from the shell, sans the use of a straw. Mirza recalled that when she travelled across five states in India tracing the flow of Ganga, from its origin till it merges with the sea, for her documentary – Ganga The Soul of India – she spotted heaps of plastic waste in pristine and pure corners of nature. That was a watershed moment for her, awakening in her the need to take up the fight against plastic. She noticed that plastic waste was being burnt and that plastic had reached places where even electricity hadn't. "Go to coffee shops and carry your own mug and packaged bottles of water," Mirza narrated the story of a Rajeshwari Singh who gave up single use plastic ten years ago. Singh set afoot as a solo traveler from Vadodara to Delhi and did not carry packaged water hosting workshops on banning one time use plastic in towns and villages. When asked about how she survived without packaged water, Singh said there were matkas placed at every 500 metres.

Jaggi Vasudev's Isha Foundation brought out the Revitalization of Rivers of India released in October 2017, and it stated: "For domestic markets, fruits and vegetables are generally loose packed or packed using traditional bulk packing solutions like bamboo‐baskets / gunny bags / plastic bags / large size carton boxes etc. It has been observed that the availability of IIP (Indian Institute of Packaging) approved designs of corrugated fibre board (CFB) boxes for fresh horticulture produce has been limited to only a few crops for which applied R&D has been sponsored by agencies like APEDA or by end‐users. Therefore, a large number of models of CFB boxes in circulation have not been tested for their suitability for packing targeted horticulture produce and in taking care of handling, stacking and transport related risk‐factors."

At the World Environment Day event in Delhi, both Vasudev and Mirza talked about new and hazardous urban habits like buying bananas from supermarkets where they come in cling-wrapped plastic trays instead of the local street vendors.

Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, Dia Mirza and Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Erik Solheim

Jaggi Vasudev, Dia Mirza and Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Erik Solheim

Not less than 8 million tonnes of plastic enters oceans every year. Erik Solheim, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), also present at the event, talked about how a whale died in Thailand recently and 60 plastic bags were found inside her body. Today, there are 67 percent of fish species in California that are contaminated with plastic.

"Destroying businesses won't work because the economy concerns the nations. We want to go to businesses with solutions because it's always ecology versus economy," Jaggi Vasudev stressed on the need to transforming to ecologically sensitive solutions.

An NGO called Chintan that works with waste-pickers and other recyclers to convert waste to social wealth, has urged the food courts at South Delhi's DLF Select City Walk Mall to ban the use of plastic straws and plastic sachets for say ketchup and mustard. Chintan is also partnering with the New Delhi Municipal Corporation to ban the use of the same in Central Delhi's Khan Market around the World Environment Day. Chitra Mukherjee, program head at Chintan explained that the Solid Waste Management Rules 2016 contain the pivotal clause about the 'extended producers responsibility' (EPR). For the first time, the rules were designed to increase the accountability of manufacturers. The clause states: "To bring in the responsibilities of producers and generators, both in plastic waste management system and to introduce collect back system of plastic waste by the producers/brand owners, as per extended producers responsibility…..To introduce collection of plastic waste management fee through pre-registration of the producers, importers of plastic carry bags/multilayered packaging and vendors selling the same for establishing the waste management system."

But, as Mukherjee puts it, the implementation of the rules rests on the municipalities. The Revitalization of Rivers of India draft had also mentioned the need for greater inter-sectoral cooperation at the de-centralized level.  The said report recommended: "If the parent ministries of the industries, urban local bodies, or panchayats do not dis-incentivize the respective stakeholders from polluting, there will be no effective reduction in pollution."

A paper titled Challenges and Opportunities: Plastic Waste Management in India: published by TERI (The Energy and Resources Institute), the clause of EPR has been deconstructed. It talks about a need for a real-time assessment and a state-wise mapping of producers and plastic demand and supply in order to formulate realistic EPR targets. Furthermore, it recommends that pilot EPR models for low-hanging fruits such as the completely recyclable PET must be explored. For instance, in Goa, there's a concept of tie-ups with local dairies for paying residents a specified amount for returning washed, empty plastic milk bags at dairy booths along with tie-ups with Tetra Pak companies for buying back empty packs.

But the policy could do with some other minute logical amendments. This could include increasing of the thickness of plastic carry bags from 40 to 50 micron and a stipulation of a 50 micron thickness for plastic sheets that is likely to increase the cost by about 20 percent. The point states that thus, 'the tendency to provide free carry bags will come down and collection by the waste-pickers will also increase to some extent.' Now, the question is that the municipalities aren't skilled or equipped to implement this, thereby leaving a lacunae in the law. Unless the local bodies have the political will to penalize manufacturers and vendors breaking laws, a good policy won't meet the implementation success it deserves.

The #refusethestraw is an awareness campaign against the banning of one-time use straws that is now gaining steam on Twitter and Facebook

The #refusethestraw is an awareness campaign against the banning of one-time use straws that is now gaining steam on Twitter and Facebook

The waste pickers act as recycling agents and pick out the waste that can be recycled. The bane of one-time plastic is that sachets, ghutka and chips packets and super thin Mother Diary milk packets don't even qualify as recyclable material and get left behind in large heaps.

Narayana Peesapaty of Bakey's, an Indian edible cutlery manufacturing start-up based in Hyderabad, Telangana, has a different and equally disturbing theory on one-time use plastic. Back in 2008, he attempted a life cycle analysis of plastic spoons in restaurants and ice cream parlours in Hyderabad and realized that the waste mostly contained only broken spoons. "Plastic cutlery is an FMCG product whose purchaser is not the end consumer. It is an input cost and business prudence would dictate that this cost be lessened," he explained that the cost of steel spoon is Rs 10 and that of a plastic spoon is 50 paisa, which means that the plastic spoon is 20 times cheaper than the steel one. But, a steel spoon, he explained, when it has served up to 1000 customers, its cost comes down to 1 paisa per use per customer. So, which is cheaper? The food vendors and manufacturers realize this too which is why the possibility of re-use of plastic cutlery exists. Also, Peesapaty asked why the law is silent on the hygiene of utensils.

He has spent Rs 5 crore in developing a machine that converts any flour – jowar, wheat, rice and millet - into cutlery. He wants to sell this machine but logistics and marketing overheads are getting in the way of scaling up.


Updated Date: Jul 19, 2018 17:24 PM

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