During last few decades, plastic products have become a part of our life owing to its wide application, low cost, light weight, sturdiness, and flexibility. However, over the years, the convenience and utility has been surpassed by the ecological casualty that plastics bring about. India has developed technological solutions that can address the problems plastics have created. The major technologies developed by various scientific organisation of the country to effectively deal with segregation, recycling, and disposal of plastic waste includes:
- Waste-to-Compost and Biomethanation Plants: Installation of waste-to-compost and biomethanation plants are promoted in India and it would reduce the load of landfill sites. Biomethanation is used to process biodegradable waste which has remained underexploited so far and contributed to 50% of the total solid waste generated. The common waste treatment facility is being promoted extensively as it enables one to make use of waste as a co-fuel in manufacturing practices.
- Blue Silver Technology: The blue silver technology was made to keep different products fresh, helping in controlling infection in patients under medical settings and for developing safe-to-use plastics for water storage. This technology won the national award for the year 2016 for commercialization of indigenous technology by Technology Development Board of Department of Science and Technology, Government of India.
- Terafil Technology: The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has developed the Terafil technology and tiles made from plastic waste which is a low cost burnt red clay porous media (disc/candle) used for filtration & treatment of turbid raw water into clean drinking water for domestic and community applications. Terafil can be fixed with any container for purification of water since it operates without electricity, spent water and sludge management. Tiles made from waste plastics bear novel features such as high mechanical strength, flame resistance, UV protection and antistatic response. Such tiles can be used in designing of structure like smart toilets in villages.
- Biodegradable Plastics: The Southern Regional Centre (SRC) of TERI University at Bengaluru has developed an environment friendly plastic to confront the expanding consumption and disposal of non-biodegradable plastics. Two kinds of biodegradable plastics developed contain synthetic polymer blends with natural biopolymer such as starch and cellulose. The biodegradability and mechanical strength of such biomaterials was enhanced by increasing the content of biopolymers in them.
- E-waste Recycling Technology: Central Institute of Plastic Engineering and Technology (CIPET), Chennai has developed different value added formulations from the plastics waste which contribute to 33-40% of waste electrical and electronic equipments (WEEE). The processing technologies involve a closed loop cycle without the emission of any toxic fumes. The technology has been transferred to interested entrepreneurs for the greater benefit to society.
- Recycling of Plastic Waste into Useful Tiles: The CSIR-National Physical Laboratory (NPL), New Delhi has developed plastic recycling technology. This technology offers a simple and novel process of production of tiles, pavement blocks, panels, etc. from the waste plastic bags and bottles. Technology helps in recycling of plastic waste into decorative coloured tiles with durability.
- Reverse Vending Machine (RVM), Zeleno: A Delhi based start up RVM Recycle is addressing the issue of growing plastic waste through its RVM recycle works with support from government agencies. Until 2018, the RVM team has already installed 30 machines across Delhi NCR, Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand recycling over 32000 kilograms of waste.
Although there is no accurate data on plastic waste generation, collection and disposal, however, such inputs are important to formulate a successful policy for eradication of plastic pollution. Other important considerations to tackle plastic pollution includes:
- Collection and Segregation of Plastic Waste: Evidently plastic articles block the drainage system of cities and towns, pollutes the roads, rivers and other water bodies, kills animals, contaminates the food, and is slowly becoming part of air we breathe in, and the land we live on. Despite numerous existing legislations and norms in country, not too much has changed. According to SWM Rules, 2016, urban local bodies need to have by-laws that emphasise on segregation, user fee collection and fines for littering at public places and roads. This will make people accountable about littering on roads and public places. The fine collected can be used to develop infrastructure and buy technology for plastic waste management.
- Airline going Green: Indian airlines are going green through introduction of biodegradable cutlery and paper straws in the meals provided onboard. The Vistara, Jet Airways and GoAir airlines are switching to recyclable alternatives such as biodegradable cutlery to lessen the plastic waste generation.
- Plastic Ban by E-commerce Companies: E-commerce companies are in the forefront of single use plastic and produce about 40 percent of such plastic waste. E-commerce companies such as Nestlé India, Coco Cola, Amazon.com Inc., Walmart Inc’s, Flipkart and many such multi- and transnational companies are committed to reduce and recycle the plastic waste.
- Indian Railways Plastic Ban: Indian Railways has already started a massive campaign to free the trains and railway stations from single use plastic. To combat plastic pollution and encourage recycling, Indian Railways have installed first ‘Swachh Bharat Recycle Machine (SBRM)’ at the Churchgate station in Mumbai which can crush 500 used plastic bottles per day and get users an instant reward discount coupons and mobile recharges. The recycled matter is supplied to clothes, carpets and grocery bags manufacturing companies. The SBRM are set to be installed at other nine stations in Mumbai Central, Dadar, Bandra, Bandra terminus, Santacruz, Andheri, Goregaon, Borivali and Bhayandar.
- Banning Single-Use-Plastics: Since plastic pollution has become pressing and critical issue, the Government of India has taken a serious note of it and has announced that country is all set to formally ban single use plastic by October 2, 2019. India has waged a war against plastics for multiple reasons, and has endorsed that the plastic pollution will be eliminated by 2022. The disposable plastics with lowest recyclability and least biodegradability are likely to be banished first. Government has come up with a national policy on single use plastics with a new set of recycling guidelines.
The probable items that will be banned in India from October 2, 2019 includes plastic carry bags, cups, plates, wrappers, bottles, straws and certain types of plastic sachets used for packaging purposes. In the first phase, single use plastic will be banned and in the second phase, remaining such plastic will be collected and recycled. After six months of a window period, government will impose a fine on utility of single use plastic and during this period new plastic alternatives shall be explored and put to use.
- The Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM): Realizing the challenges of all types of pollution, the government launched the SBM with a goal to make India clean and special emphasis was given to solid waste management (SWM). Furthermore, SBM lays special emphasis on the issues of plastic waste management. Under SWM government encouraged promotion of green design or sustainable design by companies developing green products. The mission also created awareness among people to produce less garbage, and segregate it at point of generation so that it becomes easy for municipal and other local bodies to carryout solid waste disposal.
- The DST Efforts to Beat Plastic Pollution: Department of Science & Technology (DST), Government of India have supported several technologies for reducing plastic waste. An innovative way to convert polystyrene plastic waste like thermocol into a fabric was developed that could be effective in clearing up oil spills. With support from DST, Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT), Hyderabad used orange peels to recycle polystyrene plastic waste using low energy and cost effective process. The hydrophobic but oleophilic fibre produced is considered as a novel green technology that can be used for managing plastics, agro-waste, and to perform oil spillage remediation in large water bodies.
- Informal Recycling of Plastic Waste: So far recycling of plastic waste is carried out at informal recycling units where in cleaning, sorting and grinding of plastic is done usually by children, women and old age people. No care is taken about the health of workers who segregate and grind this toxic waste with bare hands. Thus, any decision regarding the ban of single use plastics must take in consideration the livelihood and health conditions of such workers.
- Formal Recycling of Plastic Waste: Plastic waste generated in cities is primarily managed by municipal corporations as a part of solid waste management process. A large number of public private partnerships exist in the field of solid waste management in Indian cities which helps in collection, transport, treatment, and disposal and recycling of all kinds of waste. The recycling of thick and multilayer packing materials makes recycling process expensive and challenging. Thus, the successive reduction of carry bag thickness through various amendments in plastic waste management rules have helped us to significant levels in lowering the production of durable and tough plastic.
Apart from development and use of such technologies, India is also implementing several policy level and administrative measures to resolve plastic pollution. Government and policy makers across the country has drafted some important regulations and policies to tackle the threatening menace of plastic waste and has pressed for its legal implementation at the mass level. Some of the major environment friendly regulations taken by government include the Plastic Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2011, Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016, E-Waste (Management) Rules, 2016, The Hazardous and Other Wastes Rules, 2016, The E-Waste (Management) Amendment Rules, 2018 etc.
- Plastic Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2011: To address the increasing plastic production and its management on scientific lines, the union government had come up with Plastic Waste Management Rules in 2011 under the Environment Protection Act of 1986. Such rules provide floor standards for thickness of carry bags and necessitated the retailers to charge fee for plastic bag use by customers. Other regulations encompassed were ban on plastic sachet used for package of tobacco products, ban on recycled plastic for packing food items, and thickness of plastic bags (40 microns and above). The 2016 rules made it binding for urban local bodies to manage the plastic wastes2.
- Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016: The 2016 regulations seek more inclusive and effective ways to address the plastic pollution. It places responsibility of plastic waste management on Gram Panchayats comprising of awareness generation among masses, preventing open plastic burning, plastic segregation from locally generated waste, its channelization and increasing the thickness of carry bags to 50 microns2. The 2016 rules have asked the producers, importers and brand owners of plastic products to co-ordinate with urban local bodies by paying fee that shall strengthen such institutions to fight plastic nuisance. Such regulations also include the major steps to set up material recovery facilities for noncompostable solid waste, segregation of waste, recovery of recyclables and to establish facilities for dry waste processing. Clear advisories have been released on prospective use of segregated plastic waste in road making and for co-processing in cement kilns.
- The E-Waste (Management) Rules, 2016: The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) made existing e-waste norms more stringent. Some of the salient features of the 2016 e-waste rules and its likely implication include: (i). The compact fluorescent lamp and other mercury containing lamps, as well as other such equipment were brought under e-waste rules, (ii). Manufacturer, dealer, refurbisher and producer responsibility organization (PRO) have been introduced, (iii). Norms have been extended to components, consumables, spares etc. (iv). Collection mechanism will enclose collection centre, collection point, take back system etc for collection of e-waste by producers, (v). Efficient channelization of e-waste shall meet the prescribed targets under such norms, (iv). Under deposit refund scheme, the producer charges an additional amount as a deposit at the time of sale that will be returned to the consumer along with interest at the end of life of electrical and electronic equipment, and to provide an independent market instrument offering assistance or independent electronic systems offering services for sale and purchase of e-waste generated from such equipments, and electronic equipments between agencies or organizations authorised under these rules, and (vi). Such rules also make manufacturer responsible for e-waste collection, and to channelize it for recycling and disposal among other important norms.
- The E-Waste (Management) Amendment Rules, 2018: In 2018, MoEF&CC amended the e-waste rules, 2016 with the objective of channelizing the e-waste generated in the country to dismantlers and recyclers in order to formalize the e-waste recycling sector. The collection targets set under Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) included reducing the e-waste collection targets for industries to 10, 20, 30, and 40% in 2017-18, 2018-19, 2019-20, and 2020-21, respectively, and so on. Some of the other significant features of the E-waste Amendment Rules, 2018 are: (i). Average life of the products should be as per the guidelines issued by Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) from time to time, (ii). PROs shall apply to CPCB for registration to undertake activities prescribed in the rules, and (iii). The cost for sampling and testing shall be borne by the government for conducting the restriction of hazardous substances directive (RoHS) test.
- The Hazardous and other Wastes Rules, 2016: To strengthen the implementation of environmentally sound management of hazardous waste in the country, the MoEF&CC has amended the existing rules in 2016. Some of the significant features of the Hazardous and Other Wastes Rules, 2016 are as (i). Import of the solid plastic waste has been prohibited into the country including into special economic zones and export oriented units with exemption for exporters of silk waste, (ii). The defective electrical and electronic assemblies and components manufactured in India and exported can be imported back within a year without seeking permission from MoEF&CC, and (iii). The hazardous waste generated by industries (previously governed Water Act 1974 and Air Act 1981) are handed over to the authorized actual users, waste collectors or disposal facilities.
The pervasive dominance of plastic has quite apparently embedded in every habitat of world—even in the most isolated eco-system such as Pacific Ocean and Antarctica. Plastic is synthetic or semi-synthetic materials made up of complex polymers with too long shelf life and it takes about 500 to 1000 years to get completely degraded. Subsequently the use of plastics has reached to a crisis point wherein no further space is left on Earth to accommodate this toxic and non-degradable substance (Fig. 1). Plastic has got widespread use in construction, pharmaceuticals, electronics, automotives, healthcare, food stores, and textile industries.
Figure 1: Plastic pollution present in all environmental systems including air, water and soil
India generates about 26,000 tonnes of plastic waste daily which makes India 15th largest plastic waste producer of world. According a report by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), plastic accounts for 8% of total solid waste generated annually in our country. Many states such as Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Chandigarh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Goa, Maharashtra, Meghalaya, Sikkim, Nagaland, Odisha, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and West Bengal have either partially or fully banned the use of plastic carry bags. (Annual Report, 2015-16, CPCB). According to a survey conducted by Directorate of Technical Education/Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) data centres, four metro cities generate as much as 1670 tonnes of plastic waste per day which accounts for almost 40% of plastic waste generated in 60 major cities of India1. As per this data, the 35 major cities which produced maximum plastic waste are represented by figure 2.
Conclusion: All such technologies and norms developed by Government of India from time to can go a long way to tackle the plastic pollution. Such norms and technological strides will not only help India to emerge as a global player in tackling plastic pollution, may also pay ways to other countries especially in developing world to address the menace of plastic pollution. Furthermore, public has to change attitude towards plastic use and has to shoulder the responsibility to put an end to this nuisance. General public is the main stakeholder in minimising plastic use and its segregation. They can help in controlling single use plastic pollution by using reusable bags cotton or paper bags every time they go out for shopping. People can cut down all plastic pollution by using reusable metal, steal and bamboo wood water containers, bottles, plates, cups and utensils made from biomaterials. We owe a lot to the mother Earth and it’s our primary responsibility to save and protect it for generation to come.
- An Indian consumes 11kg plastic every year and an average American 109kg.
- Singh, J. (2019). Waste Management Laws in India: Plastic & Biomedical Wastes. Singh, Jayant, Waste Management Laws in India: Plastic & Biomedical Wastes.
Dr. Bilqeesa Bhat