The Plastic Waste Management Rules, that were notified on 18th March, 2016, clear a lot of ambiguity which was governing the management of plastic waste management in the previous years. While one can endlessly critique the rules and find fault in them, this post is not going to take that route. Considering that these are the outcomes of very long deliberations, one need to be considerate of the processes undertaken. Even though the public consultations/ discussions held last year for the framing of rules in different forums have been termed undemocratic by many, the present rules have done fair amount of justice of clearing the air and envisioning better plastic waste management paradigm.
The Ministry in its press release has highlighted the salient features of rules. This post is not going to re-write them here again. What this post intends is to look at how the given rules can be taken up for implementation. For now, and the years to come the rules have been written on stone. The avenue of preparing action plan for their implementation at state level and local body level is what we need to focus our energies on. The local bodies which include both urban and rural areas in their jurisdiction have been included in the rules. Their responsibility is to frame by-laws for the implementation of rules. Coming to the matter of implementation, we have to be attentive to the following provisions and be active in ensuring what has been envisioned:
Phasing out of Mutlyi-layered packaging
The rules envisage complete phase out of multi-layered non-recyclable plastic in the coming two years- both from the manufacturing and the use dimensions.
Multi-layered packaging has been defined as “multi-layered packaging” means any material used or to be used for packaging and having at least one layer of plastic as the main ingredients in combination with one or more layers of materials such aspaper, paper board, polymeric materials, metalized layers or aluminium foil, either in the form of a laminate or co-extruded structure”.
With the active citizens’ cooperation and participation, it is not impossible to think of a future without multi-layered packaging. Plastic bag ban in Bangalore is one example. Residents of many localities in the city have gone out of their way, for its proper implementation and forced shopkeepers to have alternatives to plastic bags, which includes paper and cloth bags.
However, in absence of active citizens’ participations, non- governmental organisations and the state pollution control board will need to assume responsibility for the same.
Extended Producers’ Responsibility (EPR)
Rules emphasize on Extended Producers’ Responsibility (EPR) and asks all producers, importers and brand owners to have their modalities worked out for the collection of waste generated after the usage of their produced goods i.e. multi-layered plastic sachet or pouches or packaging material, within six months. “This plan of collection to be submitted to the State Pollution Control Boards while applying for Consent to Establish or Operate or Renewal.” The state urban development department and pollution control board have to give teeth to the given provision by cancelling the registration or declining the consent to establish, operate or renewal if satisfactory action plan and installation of waste management system is not in place.
While many producers may come up with a plan where they install bins for collection in respective locations in the city and say ‘Oh we have an action plan of installing bins for collection and we are compliant’, such a mechanism is doomed to fail. What would be ideal, is to adopt the model set-up in Bangalore, for collecting and aggregating Dry Waste in all wards.
Dry Waste Collection Centers (DWCCs) are important aspect of decentralized waste management and though the concept was modelled around the neighbourhood recycling centers, was based on the principles of waste hierarchy, to put in practice the three R’s – reduce, recycle and re-use at the neighbourhood level. The DWCCs are to facilitate the collection/ buy-back of all dry waste from local residents, contract workers, and waste workers or scrap dealers, integrate informal waste workers into the operations of these centers and encourage/implement extended producers’ responsibility (EPR) of packaging materials that are not being recycled presently, thus serving as the cornerstone for the triple bottom line of operations – people, planet and profit. Bangalore became the first municipality to set up DWCCs in the country.[i]
Such centres, run by the informal waste workers must be supported under EPR mechanism and authorized to take all plastic material including multi-layered plastic sachet or pouches or packaging material. Producers should be asked to buy back the given material after an agreed payment. The framing of bye-laws under EPR should include action plan for management of the given waste and emphasize is given on recycling rather than incineration or its usage in road construction.
Plastic Bags: Registration and Pricing
The Rules state that:
The shopkeepers and street vendors willing to provide plastic carry bags for dispensing any commodity shall register with local body. The local body shall, within a period of six months from the date of final publication of these rules in the Official Gazette of India notification of these rules, by notification or an order under their appropriate state statute or byelaws shall make provisions for such registration on payment of plastic waste management fee of minimum rupees forty eight thousand @ rupees four thousand per month. The concerned local body may prescribe higher plastic waste management fee, depending upon the sale capacity. The registered shop keepers shall display at prominent place that plastic carry bags are given on payment.
(2) Only the registered shopkeepers or street vendors shall be eligible to provide plastic carry bags for dispensing the commodities.
(3) The local body shall utilize the amount paid by the customers for the carry bags exclusively for the sustainability of the waste management system within their jurisdictions.
In cities like Bangalore and Srinagar that have banned plastic bags, such provision may not apply. Wherever such an intervention is taken up, the local bodies should be asked to do the given registration process through a transparent mechanism by adopting online platforms otherwise it will become a perfect recipe for encouraging corruption and harassment of shopkeepers. The registered vendors list must also be available online in a web portal for the general public to access and the site must be frequently updated, with renewal and defaulters list. For street vendors it will be tough to pay the given amount and it is suggested that street vendors should be encouraged to do away with the plastic bags. The help of unions and membership based organizations of street vendors must be availed for the same. It is important to remember the above given third point as it mandates local body to use the collected money from sale of plastic bags in better waste management plan. In past the shopkeepers were charging customers for plastic bags, one was not clear where the collected money was channelized.
Recyclables to be given to waste-pickers or recyclers
Rules mandate that the recyclables should be only given to registered wastepickers, centers or recyclers. “The waste generator shall: Handover segregated waste to urban local body or Gram panchayat or agencies appointed by them or registered waste pickers’, registered recyclers or waste collection agencies.”
The given provision leaves a lot of space for interpretation. It says that the segregated waste (plastic in this case) should be handed over to registered waste pickers’ and recyclers. Karnataka High Court in its verdict given in mid-December clearly mentioned that the right over recyclables is of wastepickers. The onus of registration is not very clear. Precedent of issuance of occupational identity cards to waste pickers in Bangalore and other cities should be regarded as the registration process for waste pickers. Municipal corporations should walk an extra mile to enumerate waste pickers and other informal waste workers with or without the help of civil society organizations. Similarly, the State Pollution Control Board is mandated for registration of recyclers. The existing informality in recycling has to be recognized, therefore pollution control board has to take an empathetic approach and do a little extra work i.e. support in organising of informal recyclers and frame a user friendly registration/inclusion mechanism. This will help in better implementation of rules especially in the cities and areas where extensive organizing work of waste pickers and informal recyclers have not been undertaken.
Others points that will make the implementation of these rules a reality:
- All Institutional generators which includes Central government departments, state government departments, public or private sector companies, hospitals, state colleges, universities or other places of education, academy, hotels, restaurants, malls and shopping complexes must segregate their own waste, store and handover to authorised waste collection agency. The State must mandate display of waste managed every month outside the premise, for upto a year and must also detail the agency that it is handing over.
- Responsible waste management at events: Given that Bangalore has set an example of zero waste weddings, marathons and birthday parties, while the template must be encouraged, at the ward level, permissions to organise events in open space must be given after a refundable deposit amount is collected, along with the plan to manage the waste in a segregated manner. Bangalore Municipal body has issued a circular that if the public gathering is more than 5000 the organizers need to seek permission for SWM. Such provisions can be included in by-laws.
[i] “DWCC Concept Note”, (2010), SWMRT Submission to Lok Adalat, Bangalore