May 30, 2024

General Studies Paper -3

Context: Ahead of the UN meeting in Canada, India chooses to ‘regulate’, not ban, single-use plastic.

About the Single Use Plastics:

  • Single-use plastics have become a ubiquitous part of our daily lives, used in everything from packaging to consumer goods.
    • These are those that are discarded after one-time use.
  • However, the environmental impact of these materials is now a major global concern.

The Global Plastic Problem:

  • Plastic’s invention in 1907 led to its widespread use due to affordability, durability, and aesthetic appeal.
  • Major single-use plastic applications include food and beverages (31%), bottle and container caps (16%), plastic bags (11%), and straws, stirrers, beverage bottles, and containers (7%).
    • However, the non-degradable nature of these materials has led to significant environmental challenges.
  • India, a country with a population of over 1.4 billion, has chosen to regulate, rather than outright ban, single-use plastic.

Challenges Associated with Single-Use Plastics:

  • Enforcement and Compliance: One of the significant challenges associated with single-use plastics is the enforcement and compliance of regulations.
    • While many governments have implemented regulations to restrict the use of single-use plastics, ensuring compliance can be challenging.
  • Waste Management: India lacks an organised system for the management of plastic waste, leading to widespread littering across its towns and cities.
    • Many plastic items end up in landfills or as litter in the streets, rivers, and other public spaces.
    • This not only creates unsightly and unhygienic conditions but also poses severe threats to the environment and wildlife.
  • Economic Impact: The economic impact of single-use plastics is another significant challenge. Many alternatives to single-use plastics are currently more expensive, which can burden retailers and consumers.
    • Furthermore, there are more than 22,000 plastic manufacturing units in India, and it will take time before enough numbers are brought under the alternative segment to make a tangible difference to the packaging sector’s environmental footprint.
  • Health Risks: Single-use plastics pose environmental, social, economic, and health risks to people by contributing to the climate crisis, ecosystem degradation, and resource use.
    • Microplastics, non-biodegradability, and their carbon footprint compound these issues.

India’s Efforts Related to Single-Use Plastics:

  • Regulatory Measures: In 2022, India implemented the Plastic Waste Management Amendment Rules (2021) that banned 19 categories of ‘single-use plastics’.
    • These include items such as plastic cups, spoons, earbuds, decorative thermocol, wrapping or packaging film used to cover sweet boxes and cigarette packets, and plastic cutlery.
    • However, it does not include plastic bottles – even those less than 200ml— and multi-layered packaging boxes (like in milk cartons).
    • Despite the ban, enforcement has been inconsistent, with several outlets continuing to retail these goods.
      • The current ban only addresses about 11% of single-use plastic in India.
  • International Commitments: India is a party to the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA).
    • In all, 124 nations are part of the UNEA, and India has signed a resolution to draw up an agreement in the future that will make it legally binding for signatories to address the full life cycle of plastics, from production to disposal.
  • Public Awareness and Participation: The Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) to manage 100% of solid waste scientifically.
    • It is being implemented with resolve, and progress is monitored, measured and results placed in the public domain.
    • SBM 2.0 also emphasises the need for plastic management – working towards minimising single-use plastic and operationalising recycling and reuse through processing.
  • Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR): EPR policies, which hold producers responsible for the disposal of their products, are often part of regulatory approaches.
    • These policies can incentivize producers to design products that are easier to recycle or dispose of.

Way Ahead:

  • The upcoming U.N. meet will involve discussions on ‘problematic and avoidable plastic products including single-use plastics’, which refer to sections of plastics that are likely to harm the environment as well as human health.
  • The aim is to implement global and national measures such as removing these products from the market, reducing production through alternate practices or non-plastic substitutes, and redesigning problematic items to meet criteria for sustainable and safe product design.
  • India has called a ‘zero draft’, that vouches for ‘regulating’ instead of ‘not allowing’, the production, sale, import, and export of problematic and avoidable plastic goods.
    • It has, however, agreed to a ‘science-based criteria’ for identifying such plastics.
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