Are you a business or a consumer who is concerned about complying with the legal guidelines pertaining to the disposal of plastic waste in India? The use of plastic is indispensable, especially in the absence of any cheaper and environment-friendly alternatives. Plastic is being used worldwide for personal as well as commercial use, and we don’t see plastic being banned absolutely and completely any time soon. So, the need of the hour is to learn to live with the adverse impacts generated by the use of plastic, and to mitigate those, we need to adopt proper methods of disposal of plastic waste.
Need for Proper Disposal of Plastic Waste
According to a report furnished by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) in 2017, India generates around 25 thousand tonnes of Plastic Waste in a day, out of which 94% of the waste generated is recyclable, while the rest is not. Despite the legislations and rules in place and, various initiatives, and the efforts of the government to ban single-use single-use plastic by 2022, plastic waste still remains a menace in the country. If we take a look at the statistics shared by the OCED Global Plastics Outlook Database, globally, only 9% of plastic waste is recycled, and around 22% is mishandled.
Therefore, people cannot simply be allowed to have the advantage of abusing the use of plastic because it is cheap and easily accessible and thereafter forget about its proper and effective disposal. Principles like sustainable development and the Polluter Pays Principle have been developed and incorporated worldwide to ensure that consumers are also held significantly responsible for the carbon footprint they leave and the waste they generate.
In relation to plastic, the concern is higher because plastic is non-biodegradable and takes millions of years to decompose. Now, one may argue that plastic is readily available for recycling; however, that is not the case. After undergoing every cycle of thermal treatment, the quality of plastic deteriorates, thereby allowing it to be recycled barely 2-4 times. Due to the adverse impacts and effects of improper disposal of plastic waste, the concerned stakeholders felt a dire need to formulate and impose rules, regulations, and guidelines pertaining to the proper disposal of plastic waste.
Impact of improper disposal of plastic waste
When the stage arrives that even recycling of plastic is not possible, the waste generated has to be disposed of in an environmentally sound manner. If done otherwise, it can lead to the following consequences:
Indiscriminate littering of plastic waste in landfills simply causes more pollution, and when the waste seeps into the ground, it not only clogs the sewage system and the drains but further pollutes the soil and underground water, which is then consumed by living beings.
Harm to Various Ecosystems
If thrown into water bodies, it results in water pollution and harms the aquatic life and ecosystem, and if thrown in the open landfills, stray animals end up choking themselves on plastic.
Impact on Health
Incineration of plastic waste is also not advisable as the same releases poisonous and toxic gases into the atmosphere, such as carbon monoxide, benzene, etc., which can lead to respiratory and neurological disorders and, in worst-case scenarios, even diseases like lung cancer.
Apart from environmental impact, improper management of plastic waste also has economic impacts, as handling and managing plastic pollution requires higher costs, which are eventually borne by the government and the concerned stakeholders.
Understanding Plastic Waste Management
In light of these aforementioned adverse effects of improper disposal of plastic, the authorities felt and realized the need for proper and effective plastic waste management. The government introduced and implemented the Plastic Waste Management Rules in 2016 in order to provide an effective legal framework for plastic waste management, which has been upgraded and amended with time, keeping in mind the growing challenges and shortcomings that are being faced in achieving their overall objective.
In simpler words, Plastic Waste management involves the collection, transportation, processing, recycling, and/or disposal of plastic waste. The main objective of this is to minimize the overall adverse effects of plastic waste.
Benefits of Plastic Waste Management
Effective Plastic Waste Management is a process of effectively managing the waste generated by the rampant usage of plastic and can have the following benefits:
- Reduction in Environmental Pollution
- Reduction in Health Hazards
- Protection of Various Ecosystems
- Protection of Animals
- Reduction in Generation of Toxic Waste
- Reduction in Economic Cost involved in restoring the environment
- Promotes Sustainable Development
Steps involved in the Disposal of Plastic waste
Now that we have discussed the need and benefits of proper plastic waste management and disposal, let us have a look at what are the various steps involved in the disposal of plastic waste. The series of steps involved in managing, handling, and disposing of plastic waste are as follows:
Segregation at the Source
Plastic Waste Management begins at your home or business place with the practice of segregating your waste. Proper Segregation at the source of waste generation forms the foundation of effective waste management by ensuring that plastic waste does not get mixed up with other kinds of waste, such as medical waste, E-waste, other hazardous waste, or even biodegradable waste, thereby making the upcoming processes easier.
Collection and Storage of Plastic Waste
After segregating the plastic waste from the rest of the waste generated, the next crucial step is collecting that plastic waste from its source and storing it in an appropriate manner till further processing. You must have witnessed municipality vans visiting your localities and collecting this waste in the morning to prevent littering.
These local municipalities have been made responsible for collecting and appropriate storage of plastic waste.
Transporting Plastic Waste to Appropriate Facilities
After the plastic waste has been collected and stored by the local authorities, then comes the step of transporting it to the recycling or disposal units for appropriate treatment.
Methods Employed for Disposal of Plastic Waste in India
Over the years, various techniques have been employed globally to handle and dispose of plastic waste, but the majority of them have proven to be ineffective as the statistics show abysmally low rates of proper plastic waste management, and a major chunk is still mismanaged and this is not a problem specific to India. Different regions of the world employ different methodologies to reduce their plastic waste depending on their resources and needs. In India, we can witness the following methodologies prevalent for the disposal of Plastic Waste:
Disposal at Landfills
A major chunk of the non-recyclable and non-biodegradable plastic waste gets disposed of in landfills. You must have witnessed heaps of garbage in open lands found in your states, these are the designated landfills where waste generated, particularly plastics, are dumped. However, these landfills are not the most sustainable or environmentally sound options. They are usually improperly managed, and if allowed to stay longer, the waste tends to seep into the ground and start leaking pollutants, thereby contaminating the environment.
The most common and fundamental method employed in managing plastic ways is Recycling. It was popularized and introduced in the 1970s, and it is still the most prevalent method of managing plastic waste. Various technological advancements have been made, and new technologies have been deployed in the country to make this methodology a success. India has been able to do a fair job at it as well; however, the problem arises that not all plastics can be recycled. In addition to that, as discussed earlier, you cannot keep recycling plastic over and over again as after undergoing every cycle of thermal treatment, the quality of plastic deteriorates, thereby allowing it to be recycled barely 2-4 times.
Plastic can be classified into various categories, and one such category is biodegradable plastics. Yes! No matter how weird it sounds, there are certain biodegradable plastics such as polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs), cellulose-based plastics, Polylactic acid (PLA), etc. These are even termed as ‘Bioplastics’ as they get decomposed naturally in the environment by biological, i.e. microbial action. Though they break down over a period of time, they still require proper disposal in composting units that have been established just for this.
Incineration of plastic waste is usually done to convert waste into energy and, therefore, is used to generate heat, electricity, etc. However, the disposal of plastic waste by burning it releases pollutants like microplastics, bisphenols, and all other kinds of toxins or heavy metals that pollute the air and cause respiratory health hazards, especially when done using informal incinerators in open fields. Therefore, designated incinerators are required to comply with emission standards to minimise the environmental and health hazards caused by the burning of plastic waste.
Plasma Pyrolysis is also one of the technologies employed for the disposal of plastic waste. It is a process by which plastic waste undergoes thermochemical decomposition by employing high temperatures, and this breaks the polymers into hydrocarbons. It is often used to produce liquid oil. Though it can resolve the problems associated with low-quality plastic waste and is also an economically viable option, it releases carbon dioxide into the environment and also requires a lot of energy.
EPR, i.e. the Extended Producer Responsibility Regime, which essentially works on the Polluter Pays Principle, has been introduced and implemented by the government in order to cast some financial responsibility on the manufacturers, importers, and brand owners for the waste they generate.
If implemented effectively, the EPR Regime can incentivize those involved in plastic packaging to come up with recyclable products that will diminish the adverse environmental impacts or deploy methods and finances for its effective disposal after the end of its life cycle.
In a way, it further endorses ‘Product Stewardship’, which basically means that whoever designs, produces, buys, or sells a particular product has to take responsibility for reducing its negative environmental impact throughout the end-of-life cycle of that product, which includes the proper disposal of that product.
Some of the ways in which EPR is implemented is by ensuring that producers of plastic products are responsible for financing this product stewardship program and managing the end-of-life cycle of the product, thereby reducing the burden on the taxpayers and the governmental agencies. Consumers are also made responsible for using the return systems that have been established by the producers.
Thus, EPR is one of the most effective methods that particularly assigns the responsibility of ‘disposal’ of plastic waste onto the respective generator and, in fact, ensures that the cost of disposal is well incorporated into their business model. Thus, as a business entity or a commercial organization involved in the manufacturing or use of plastic, you are required to get EPR Registration as mandated by the law and collaborate with the concerned authorized agencies to have collection and recycling mechanisms in place for handling and disposing of your plastic waste.
Challenges in Disposal of Plastic Waste
Proper and effective disposal of plastic waste is easier said than done. Had it been otherwise, we wouldn’t be seeing the terrifying data floating around, with the government constantly preaching to us to make some behavioural changes when it comes to the usage of plastic. Extreme steps like a complete and absolute ban on single-use plastic would not have been required in the first place, but certainly, there are certain elements that pose a grave challenge in implementing effective methods of disposal of plastic waste, some of which are as follows:
The scale of the Problem
According to a report published by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), the amount of plastic waste generated by India every year is around 9 million metric tons and expecting it to get reduced any time soon would be too optimistic. Owing to its utility in various sectors, the usage of plastic is increasing exponentially, and the very scale of the problem has become a huge hindrance to its effective management, but this is not to say it has become an absolutely formidable task. The government is amending and updating the laws to tackle the issues coming up with time and has been taking initiatives in rural and urban areas alike to tackle this menace of plastic waste.
Old habits die hard! Encouraging people to change their behaviour and motivating them to use other environmentally friendly alternatives can be a complex challenge. Consumers are so accustomed to plastic because it has been so readily available as long as memory serves, and asking them to completely drop plastic and switch to expensive or less accessible alternatives can be a daunting task.
Lack of Awareness
The most fundamental challenge in the proper management and disposal of plastic waste is the lack of knowledge and awareness surrounding the serious impact plastic use can cause over time and also the lack of awareness relating to the effective methods of disposal that can be employed at individual levels. Especially in a country like India, where a major section of the population is illiterate and residing in rural areas where these programs fail to reach or where some are even too stubborn to learn the difference and the purpose of different colour-coded dustbins.
Proper disposal of plastic waste requires updated infrastructure and the latest technology to reduce the time, energy, and cost involved in the process in order to incentivize the public and businesses to adopt these practices. Lack of these essentials leads to mismanagement of the waste generated, and this leads to improper disposal of the plastic waste in landfills, water bodies, etc., thereby causing environmental pollution.
Lack of Proper Facilities
In order to handle and dispose of plastic in a scientifically and environmentally sound manner, well-established recycling facilities are required, which are quite limited in number, especially in rural areas, and this leads to users resorting to primitive and informal methods of disposal of plastic waste.
Costly Regulatory Compliance
Ensuring compliance with environmental regulations is not so incentivizing for businesses and enterprises because of the high cost involved. Thus, they are often reluctant to adopt environmentally friendly disposal techniques.
Complexity of the Procedures Involved
The rules and regulations prescribed for EPR or any other compliance are often very intricate and arduous for small or even large businesses to wrap their heads around. They are often grappling with the process of obtaining licensing and find themselves caught in the web of these procedures, which are extremely time-consuming and complex. Hence, it is advisable to outsource these services or hire expert advice to make the process less burdensome and time-saving.
Disposal of plastic waste is a pressing concern, especially in India, where there are improper collection and segregation systems and no technological advancements pertaining to this have been made; however, various initiatives have been taken for the reuse and recycling of plastic. This aspect of disposal is still overlooked as there seems to be a lag in the rules and regulations concerning it, and thus, the ubiquitously preferred method for the ultimate disposal of plastic often remains the most primitive and informal technique, such as incineration of waste.
Therefore, it is imperative that we continue to invest in the development of infrastructure, technology, and innovation in waste management, particularly in designing effective disposal techniques. The government of India has been working on it through various policies and schemes such as Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, Single-use Plastic Ban, etc., but the journey is still ongoing, and thus it is essential to stay updated with the latest developments and guidelines prescribed for your respective industry to avoid any adverse consequences.
The different categories of plastics are as follows: i) Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET or PETE) ii) High-density polyethylene (HDPE) iii) Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) iv) Low-density polyethylene (LDPE) v) Polypropylene (PP) vi) Polystyrene (PS) vii) Other types of plastics (ABS, PPO, PC, PBT etc.)
Recycling is considered the best method of disposal of plastic waste.
1. Ban on Single-Use (Disposable) Plastic 2. Imposition of Taxes to reduce production and distributing economic incentives and subsidies to encourage the reduction of waste. 3. Introducing effective standards and requirements for plastic products to make them even more sustainable. 4. Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) regulations that are imposed on producers, manufacturers, importers, etc., for taking responsibility for plastic products for their whole life cycle.
Yes, as per multiple data and reports available online published by the concerned authorities, India recycles roughly 30% of the plastic waste generated every year.
The government of India has introduced and implemented Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016, in order to provide an effective legal framework for plastic waste management, which has been upgraded and amended with time, keeping in mind the growing challenges and shortcomings that are being faced in achieving their overall objective. To further control the menace of unmanaged plastic waste, the government has implemented frameworks like EPR and enforced a ban on single-use plastics.
Read Our Article: EPR Plastic Registration And EPR Plastic Waste Management