India to ban single-use plastics but experts say more must be done to

Good News Notes:

India will ban most single-use plastics by next year as part of its efforts to reduce pollution — but experts say the move is only a first step to mitigate the environmental impact.

India’s central government announced the ban in August this year, following its 2019 resolution to address plastic pollution in the country. The ban on most single-use plastics will take effect from July 1, 2022.

Enforcement is key for the ban to be effective, environmental activists told CNBC. New Delhi also needs to address important structural issues such as policies to regulate the use of plastic alternatives, improve recycling and have better waste segregation management, they said.

Single-use plastics refer to disposable items like grocery bags, food packaging, bottles and straws that are used only once before they are thrown away, or sometimes recycled.

“They have to strengthen their systems in the ground to ensure compliance, ensure that there is an enforcement of this notification across the industry and across various stakeholders,” Swati Singh Sambyal, a New Delhi-based independent waste management expert told CNBC. 

Why plastics?

As plastic is cheap, lightweight and easy to produce, it has led to a production boom over the last century, and the trend is expected to continue in the coming decades, according to the United Nations.

But countries are now struggling with managing the amount of plastic waste they have generated.

About 60% of plastic waste in India is collected — that means the remaining 40% or 10,376 tons remain uncollected, according to Anoop Srivastava, director of Foundation for Campaign Against Plastic Pollution, a non-profit organization advocating for policy changes to tackle plastic waste in India.

Independent waste-pickers typically collect plastic waste from households or landfills to sell them at recycling centers or plastic manufacturers for a small fee.

However, a lot of the plastics used in India have low economic value and are not collected for recycling, according to Suneel Pandey, director of environment and waste management at The Energy and Resources Institute (Teri) in New Delhi.

In turn, they become a common source of air and water pollution, he told CNBC.

Banning plastics is not enough

Countries, including India, are taking steps to reduce plastic use by promoting the use of biodegradable alternatives that are relatively less harmful to the environment.

For example, food vendors, restaurant chains and some local businesses have started adopting biodegradable cutlery and cloth or paper bags.

However, there is currently “no guideline in place for alternatives to plastics,” Sambyal said.

That could be a problem when the plastic ban takes effect.

Sambyal said clear rules are needed to promote alternative options, which are expected to become commonplace in future.

The new rules also lack guidelines on recycling.

Though around 60% of India’s plastic waste is recycled, experts worry that too much of it is due to “downcycling.” That refers to a process where high-quality plastics are recycled into new plastics of lower quality — such as plastic bottles being turned to polyester for clothing.

“Downcycling decreases the life of the plastic. In its normal course, plastic can be recycled seven to eight times before it goes to an incineration plant … but if you downcycle, after one or two lives itself, it will have to be disposed,” said Pandey from Teri….”

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