Potential and opportunities under plastic waste management rules

What are the plastic waste rules and their amendment?

The Plastic Waste Management Rules 2016 have been notified to ensure the separation of plastic waste on site, reduce recyclable waste entering landfills and minimize the generation of plastic waste in the country. The rules also mentioned the responsibilities of different stakeholders such as producers, large consumers, street vendors, retailers, local city bodies, and state and central pollution control boards. But there is a lack of effective implementation of the potential of the circular economy.

On February 16, 2022, the Union Department of Environment published Plastic Waste Management (Second Amendment) Rules 2022, to phase out certain single-use plastic products from July 1. and the mandate to increase the thickness of plastic carrier bags to more than 120 microns from December 31. It also included guidelines on Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR).

The amendment notification/guidelines mainly covered:

  1. Categorization of plastic packaging into 4 forms
  2. Count/consider pre-consumer and post-consumer plastic packaging waste in the waste stream and recycling
  3. Implementation of annual recycling targets and recycling obligation for all producers, based on the amount of pre and post packaging waste
  4. Consider targeted reuse (by stakeholder) of rigid plastic packaging materials
  5. End-of-life disposal via road construction, waste-to-energy, waste-to-energy, cement kilns (for co-processing)
  6. Creation of a market for plastic credits: purchase of certificates from producers, importers and brand owners who have used recycled content beyond their obligation
  7. Environmental compensation according to the polluter-pays principle, in case stakeholders fail to achieve their objectives
  8. Mandatory business only with entities registered under the PWM Rules 2016

Understanding the linear economy and the circular economy

Linear economy This is where we extract the raw materials, transform them into a product and finally dispose of them after use. A linear economy traditionally follows the “take-make-dispose” plan. Value is created in this economic system by producing and selling as many products as possible and raw materials are processed inefficiently because there is no emphasis on conservation.

Whereas Circular economy focus on three principles, one – eliminate waste and pollution, second – circulate products and materials at their highest value and third – focus on regeneration. In a circular economy, waste does not exist and products and raw materials are (designed to be) reused as long and intensively as possible over and over again. Waste is the new raw material.

Circular economy opportunities in plastic waste management

Most of the areas covered by the current EPR guidelines now offer various circular economy opportunities in plastic waste management:-

1. Waste collection:

Source segregation and separate transport is the first step to eliminating waste, i.e. the first principle of the circular economy. There is currently a huge gap in the waste collection system even for mixed MSWs in India. More than 80% of waste is collected in mixed form and occupies more than 70% of the municipal budget for collection and transport alone. Additionally, transport vehicles are not effectively enclosed and segregated or designed to ensure segregation and separate collection of waste.

According to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), India generates nearly 26,000 tonnes of plastic per day and more than 10,000 tonnes per day of plastic waste goes uncollected.

With EPR’s emphasis on mandatory collection of pre- and post-consumer target packaging waste, source separation is just one effective step to ensure a better recycling rate. Thus, better collection infrastructure is now a priority for producers. Thus, possibility of setting up centers and maintaining collection infrastructure for producers/brand owners/importers.

2. Re-design and sustainable alternative solutions for packaging:

Many multi-layered plastic packaging products like crisps/Kurkure packets, there is no trail after use, i.e. they cannot be recycled, reused or composted, and therefore end up in the landfill. They are designed to be eliminated. Products like these are the result of design choices. According to a report, 43% of all plastic produced in India is used for packaging, with the majority being single-use plastic (SUP).

The rules prohibit the reuse of SUP and EPR mandates of rigid plastic packaging waste as well as annual recycling targets. In addition, there is an exemption from the ERP objectives, in the event that the obliged entity uses plastic packaging that is 100% biodegradable in the surrounding environment, leaving no trace of microplastics or chemical residues or any other trace having adverse effects on the environment and health.

Thus, the redesign of packaging materials, alternative solutions and reuse will be the greatest opportunity according to the first and second principle of the circular economy, that is, reduce, recycle and reintegrate. Products such as edible packaging, reusable and biodegradable packaging will be the main areas of focus. Products that could circulate by being maintained, shared, reused, repaired, refurbished, remanufactured and recycled will be the business of the day.

3. Recycling:

As EPR is also focusing on recycling through approved recyclers and maintaining records of all upstream and downstream suppliers/importers/recyclers, besides the redesign and collection infrastructure, the technology solution will again be huge. Currently, recycling in India presents technological challenges, due to the mixed nature of MSW. Once the waste is collected, it needs to be recycled into something that can increase its lifespan.

Thus, innovative and sustainable technologies such as automotive waste separators using the AI ​​system for the separation of plastic waste into types of plastic or the separation via brands or the conversion of plastic into various products such as tiles, boards and even rocks for housing with an emphasis on using single use/multi-layer/waste packaging will be good opportunities. Other technologies with efficiencies such as waste-to-energy (Gazifiers/Pyrolysis Plasma), Bio-methanol/Bio-oil or co-processing units will also need one hour, given the amount of plastic waste generated in India.

4. Credit market:

The EPR guidelines also allow for the sale and purchase of excess credit certificates to be carried over or offset against the previous year’s targets, thus formalizing the sector.

So, cloud/AI based systems/software for auto-calculation, vendor/recycler tracking, online record keeping for environment returns, auto vendor or vendor database identification buyer producer – depending on demand and supply, etc. will again be good opportunities.

So, if harnessed properly, PWM rules can be a good example to convert the market from linear to circular economy.

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