Updated: Jul 18
It is almost impossible to overlook the heaps of plastic waste everywhere you go. Be it the cities, towns, villages, mountains or the beaches. All of us have felt repulsed by plastic bottles and wrappers. This has almost always been a topic of discussion in every living space and on every vacation. A lack of general awareness and resources is just one small part of the problem. The fact is that these issues can easily be dealt with through mass campaigns, educational advertisement, resource deployment and management by the producers of products that use plastic in packaging. What is clearly lacking in the producers is intent! Blaming an elected candidate or the local authorities for this issue is not going to solve the problem. After all, these local authorities work with the same limitations as our general population. In fact, they are not equipped to handle these problems but our legislature has found workable solutions around managing and handling the plastic waste management problem by introducing a set of practical rules for plastic waste management called the Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016.
The most promising feature of the Plastic Waste Management Rules 2016 is the concept of ‘Extended Producers Responsibility’ which makes a producer of plastic including ‘brand owners’ responsible for environmentally sound management of a product packaged in plastic until the end of its life. Producers here include companies and industries engaged in the use of plastic for inter alia packaging or wrapping commodities. Examples of producers would include Pepsico, Coca-cola, Bisleri, Unilever, Nestle, BASF (the chemical company) and Patanjali, to name just a few.
Given the demographics of India and the extent of the plastic problem, it is essential that companies that are producing products that add to plastic waste play a larger role in managing plastic waste. Extending a producer’s responsibility is the only practical solution to the plastic waste management problem in India. In my opinion, it is reasonable for the Government of India to expect the producer companies to partner with public platforms and help the people of India in developing and implementing plastic waste management systems. However, it has been over 4 years since the plastic waste management rules were enforced but the producer companies and their managements have not been proactive in the area of plastic waste management at all. It is evident that the producer companies are fully aware of their obligations under these rules but have chosen not to comply with its provisions. Unfortunately, monetary profits continue to outweigh health and environmental concerns. A company that is capable of selling its products all over India is very well capable of building effective plastic waste management systems but they choose not to think in this direction. While my colleague Akshita and I were discussing this issue, she pointed out how effectively Coca Cola and Pepsi collect their glass bottles back. On this note, they could use similar supply/distribution chains to get the plastic back for recycling. Where there is a will, there is a way!
Also, there is room for substantial innovation in the plastic waste management area. The producers could certainly look at mentoring and funding start-ups that come up with innovative waste management solutions that can scale and become sustainable.
In the light of the abovementioned, I have discussed some important obligations of the ‘producer companies’ under the Plastic Waste Management Rules 2016. The discussion below also indicates the possible consequences of non-compliance on the ‘director’ of a defaulting producer company.
Rule 9. Responsibility of Producers, Importers and Brand Owners
S.No.Producer ObligationsCutoff date for complianceStatusPenalty DIRECTOR ALERT!1.PRODUCERS TO BUILD WASTE COLLECTION SYSTEMS: Work out modalities of waste collection systems based on the ‘extended producer responsibility’ principle, either individually or collectively, through their own distribution channel or through the local body concerned. Keep the State Urban Development Departments involved. September 18, 2016Per publicly available information, producers have not complied with this requirement.Non-compliance punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to seven (7) years or fine Every person who, at the time the offence was committed, was directly in charge of, and was responsible to, the company for the conduct of the business of the company, as well as the company, shall be deemed to be guilty of the offence and shall be liable to be proceeded against and punished accordingly (example: director, manager, secretary or other officer):2.SUBMISSION OF PLAN FOR WASTE COLLECTION AND IMPLEMENTATION Primary responsibility for collection of used multi-layered plastic sachet or pouches or packaging (chips packets etc.) is of producers, importers and brand owners who introduce the products in the market. Producers are required to establish a system for collecting back the plastic waste generated due to their products and submit a plan of collection to the relevant authorities. This plan of collection is required to be submitted to the State Pollution Control Boards while applying for consent to establish or operate or renewal. The brand owners whose consent was renewed before the notification of these rules were required to submit such a plan within one (1) year from the date of notification of these rules and implement within two (2) years thereafter. The brand owners whose consent was renewed before the notification of these rules were required to submit such a plan within one (1) year from the date of notification of these rules i.e. 18th March 2017 and implement within two (2) years thereafter i.e. implement plan by 18th March 2018. Per publicly available information producers have not complied with this requirement3.Phase out manufacture and use of multilayered plastic which is non recyclable or non energy recoverable or with no alternate use. Note: Initially, this was meant to be “non recyclable multi-layered plastic”. Introduction of the words “non energy recoverable” and “with no alternate use” is questionable and could be challenged in a court of law. However, the author sure hopes that the producer companies who explained alternate uses of such non recyclable multilayered plastics to achieve such a change in the 2018 amendment collect back such plastic and put it to beneficial alternate use.18 March 2018Per publicly available information producers have not complied with this requirement 4. Plastic producers to register with the Pollution Control Board or the Pollution Control Committee of the States or the Union Territories administration, as the case maybe Non-compliant producers to cease manufacturing or use of plastics 18th June 2018 Due Diligence Required. 5. Producers required to maintain a record of details of the person engaged in supply of plastic used as raw material to manufacture carry bags or plastic sheet or like or cover made of plastic sheet or multilayered packaging. Due Diligence Required.
Responsibility of Waste Generators
Rule 8 also requires waste generators (all nationals and legal entities in India) to take steps to minimize generation of plastic waste and segregate plastic waste at source in accordance with the Solid Waste Management Rules, 2000. Given the concept of ‘extended producers’ responsibility’, it is expected that the producers will be proactive and help create necessary awareness amongst the waste generators so as to successfully fulfil their responsibility as producers. The producers could create awareness through social media campaigns, advertisement and funding innovative start-ups working in this area.
The authorities responsible for enforcement of the provisions of the Plastic Waste Management Rules 2016 are the State Pollution Control Board, Pollution Control Committee (Union Territory ) and the Secretary-in-charge of Urban Development of the State or a Union Territory. The authorities are required to take the assistance of the District Magistrate or the Deputy Commissioner within the territorial limits of the jurisdiction of the concerned district in the enforcement of the provisions of these rules.
“Raising awareness on the most pressing environmental issues of our time is more important than ever.” Leonardo DiCaprio
Marium, a lost baby dugong. The 8-month-old mammal, who died after biologists believe she ate plastic waste.
Written by Pritika Kumar with inputs from Akshita Goel, Parmeet Batra, Kushan Chakraborty and Ishita Bisht