Plastic waste has become one of the most daunting challenges for the world to manage. The unrivalled functional properties of durability, lightweight, inexpensive and water and shock resistance make plastic imperative to modern living. But their non-biodegradability and indiscriminate presence today globally makes them dangerous to the human race at their end of life.
Global plastic production has increased by more than 200 folds from 1950 to 2016 and is expected to double in the coming 20 years. Highest use of plastic is in the packaging and a major chunk of the plastic produced each year are made for one time use, thereby, leading their way to the waste cycle.
Loopholes of plastic waste are manifold and the concerns are global. Plastic waste has a huge impact on the ecosystem, wildlife and humans. Escaping the collection systems, a huge amount of plastic waste eventually reaches the water channels and further to the oceans reducing their productivity and leading to a significant economic cost. Even if collected, many of the single use plastics on the other hand are multi-grade, or down-cycled (as recycling of plastic degrades its quality) products which are impossible to recycle and almost unmanageable. Subtle and long-term impact is the contamination these plastic wastes carry. The chemicals associated with plastic (bispenol A, phthalates, brominated flame retardants) include deadly carcinogens, developmental, reproductive and neuro toxins and can be released into the environment from unmanaged plastic waste or at even at any point of plastic waste management. Apart from the direct impacts, the cost associated with managing the plastic waste, removing beach litters has a different degree of social and economic impact. In 2007, it was found that at least 267 different species have suffered from the impacts of plastic waste including 86 percent of all sea turtle species, 44 percent of all seabird species and 43 percent of all marine mammal species.
Management of plastic waste to address its impacts, thereby, is a huge challenge and needs interventions at all levels, including product redesigning, reduced packaging, strict take-back mechanisms, banning of single use, multi-grade and non-recyclable plastics, design for reuse and recycling, foolproof system for plastic lifecycle management, etc.
Management of plastic waste first came under regulations in India in 2011 as the Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2011. These rules set a minimum standard for thickness of carry bags and mandated the retailers to charge fee for plastic bag. It also established a framework with assigned responsibilities for plastic waste management to the ULBs and the provisions to set up a state-level monitoring committee. These rules were succeeded by the Plastic Waste Management Rules 2016. The 2016 rule addresses the issues of plastic waste minimization, source segregation, recycling, involving waste pickers, recyclers and waste processors in the collection chain, adopting poluter’s pay principle, extended producer responsibility, etc. comprehensively.
Toxics Link has been working on a range of plastic waste issues for over a decade now, including management of overall plastic waste, recycling of WEEE (electronic and electrical waste) plastic, impact assessment of regulations, microplastics as an emerging global threat, single use plastics, etc.