How to Deal with the Plastic Waste Menace?

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How to Deal with the Plastic Waste Menace? Blog Image

What’s in today’s article?

  • Why in News?
  • India’s Effort to Regulate Single-Use Plastic - The Plastic Waste Management Amendment Rules (2021)
  • Global Efforts to Eliminate Plastic Pollution
  • What’s the Agenda of the Toronto Meeting?
  • What are the CSE’s Analysis Highlights?

Why in News?

  • Ahead of week-long negotiations (involving 192 countries in Toronto, Canada) on getting the globe to progress on eliminating plastic pollution, India is in favour of “regulating” and not outright eliminating single-use plastic.
  • This was highlighted in an analysis by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) on various countries’ positions on single-use plastic.

India’s Effort to Regulate Single-Use Plastic - The Plastic Waste Management Amendment Rules (2021)

  • In 2022, India brought into effect the Plastic Waste Management Amendment Rules (2021) that banned 19 categories of ‘single-use plastics’.
  • These are defined as disposable goods that are made with plastic but are generally use-and-throw after a single use and include -
    • Plastic cups, spoons, earbuds, decorative thermocol,
    • Wrapping or packaging film used to cover sweet boxes and cigarette packets, and
    • Plastic cutlery.
  • It, however, doesn’t include plastic bottles - even those less than 200ml - and multi-layered packaging boxes (like in milk cartons).
    • The rationale behind banning certain kinds of plastic and leaving others out derives from a report by an expert committee on single-use plastics constituted by the Department of Chemicals and Petrochemicals.
    • They scored different plastic goods on the basis of their utility and environmental impact. The current ban only addresses about 11% of single-use plastic in India.
    • Moreover, even the single-use plastic items that are banned are not uniformly enforced nationally with several outlets continuing to retail these goods.

Global Efforts to Eliminate Plastic Pollution

  • According to the United Nations, 99% of plastics are made from polymers derived from non-renewable hydrocarbons (crude oil and natural gas).
  • Plastic production has doubled in the last 20 years and contributes about 3.4% of the total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions globally.
  • The United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) passed a resolution to “end plastic pollution” in 2022.
    • An Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) was set up and tasked to develop a legally binding instrument - a global treaty - to govern plastic production and use across all nations.
    • However, after 3 rounds of extensive discussions and negotiations, and the 4th round about to kick off in Canada, the world seems to be nowhere near an agreement on how to deal with the plastic waste menace.

What’s the Agenda of the Toronto Meeting?

  • Of the nearly 17 topics that countries are expected to deliberate upon, one of them involves “problematic and avoidable plastic products including single-use plastics”.
    • This refers to sections of plastics that are likely to harm the environment as well as human health.
  • Similar to the position on plastics, there are 16 other issues that deal with the production of polymers - the constituent chemicals of most plastics - waste management, trade, the use of alternative plastics, etc.
  • The aim of negotiating countries 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.

What are the CSE’s Analysis Highlights?

  • It shows that almost all the oil, gas and plastic producing nations are not keen to reduce production of primary/virgin plastics.
  • In fact, a handful of them are strident on making this treaty all about management of plastic waste, instead of that of controlling production.
  • It is evident that some member states are weakening the provisions of the draft to protect their economic interests and public health is not a priority for them. For instance,
    • The European Union (EU) has proposed that all countries restrict the making and selling of these categories of plastic.
    • The United States also has a position closer to that of India and suggests that each country draws up its own list of ‘problematic and avoidable’ goods.
  • This means, countries’ positions are influenced by the centrality of plastic production to their economy, recycling abilities and waste management capability.
  • India has opted for language in the current version of the negotiating document, called a ‘zero draft’.
    • It 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.

 Q.1. What is the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA)?

UNEA was created in 2012, as an outcome of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), held in Brazil. Since its establishment, the Assembly has ushered in a new era of multilateralism with environmental issues.

 Q.2. What is India doing to reduce plastic pollution?

India, like Australia, is aiming to reduce plastic waste by driving innovation. Adopting circular economy design, technologies, and business models will extend the use of plastic materials. It will also drive new industries and jobs in a zero plastic waste economy.

Source: Ahead of U.N. meet, India chooses to ‘regulate’, not ban, single-use plastic