- The first commercial plastic was developed over one hundred years ago, but the plastic became major consumer material only after the growth of the petrochemical industry in the 1920s .
- Now plastics have not only replaced many wood, leather, paper, metal, glass, and natural fiber products in many applications, but also have facilitated the development of entirely new types of products that are so versatile in use that their impacts on the environment are extremely wide ranging Once hailed as a 'wonder material', plastic is now regarded as a serious worldwide environmental and health concern essentially due to its non-biodegradable nature . Careless disposal of plastic bags chokes drains, blocks the porosity of the soil and causes problems for groundwater recharge .
- Plastic disturbs the soil microbe activity, and once ingested, can kill animals. Plastic bags can also contaminate foodstuffs due to leaching of toxic dyes and transfer of pathogens. The rapid rate of urbanization in India has led to increasing plastic waste generation .
- In fact, a major portion of the plastic bags i.e. approximately 60-80% of the plastic waste generated in India is collected and segregated to be recycled. The rest remains strewn on the ground, littered around in open drains, or in unmanaged garbage dumps.
PLASTIC INDUSTRY PROFILE
- The plastics industry in India has made significant achievements ever since it made a modest but promising beginning by commencing production of Polystyrene in 1957.
- The growth of the Indian plastic industry has been phenomenal - the growth rate is higher than for the plastic industry elsewhere in the world .
- Per capita consumption of plastic in India is less as compared to China and other developed countries.
- Packaging presents a major growth area where there has been a spiraling demand for plastics.
- Among the commodity plastics, polyethylene and PET are predominantly used in packaging. Low density polyethylene (LDPE) is used in the manufacture of carry bags and PET is used in packaging beverages like soft drink and mineral water. PET in particular presents a major growth area in the years to come.
SOURCES OF PLASTIC WASTE
Plastic wastes are generated from a variety of sources and can be broadly classified as consumer, industrial, computer and other wastes.
- Consumer waste generated from residential households, markets, small commercial establishments, hotels and hospitals include milk pouch, carry bags, cups/glasses, buckets/mugs, pens, mats, luggage, TV cabinets, footwear, etc.
- Industrial sector generates barrels, crates, films, jerry cans, tanks, cement bags, tarpaulins, etc. as plastic wastes.
- Floppy, CD, monitor, printers, etc. are included in computer wastes.
- Other sources of plastic wastes include automotive, agricultural and industrial wastes; and the construction debris.
PROBLEMS RELATED TO PLASTIC WASTE
- The plastic content of the municipal waste is picked up by rag pickers for recycling either at primary collection centers or at dumpsites.
- Moreover, since the rag-picking sector is not formalized, not all the recyclables, particularly plastic bags, get picked up and are found littered everywhere.
- Littering is a very common phenomenon in India. One of the offshoots of littering is the choking of drains, streams, etc.
- Plastic films, bags are not permeable, and so they tend to hold other type of wastes thus blocking the way. This gives rise to flooding of the streets in the urban low lying areas with wastewater emanating foul smell and causing breakthrough of serious health hazards.
- Recently, cow deaths have been reported due to the consumption of scattered plastic bags along with the organic matter .
- Plastics are recycled mostly in factories, which do not have adequate technologies to process them in a safe manner. This exposes the workers to toxic fumes and unhygienic conditions.
- Dioxin, a highly carcinogenic and toxic by-product of the manufacturing process of plastics, is one of the chemicals believed to be passed on through breast milk of the mother to the nursing infant. Burning of plastics, especially PVC releases this dioxin and also furan into the atmosphere .
- Since toxic dyes and chemicals are used as additives during the recycling, the workers engaged in the recycling of plastic are constantly exposed to various toxic compounds.
- Polybag recycling is carried out in shanties, this problem is compounded due to poor ventilation, as workers find themselves inhaling contaminated air . Child labour itself is a big issue. Indian collection sector employ children below the age of 15 to collect them because of the low wages to be paid to the child and the ease of availability of child labour .
- Backyard smelters and plastic recycling units dot India's suburban/urban sites, taking lead battery scrap and plastic waste imported from developed countries such as Australia and the United States. The dangerous toxins emitting from the smelters have affected human, animal and plant life.
- The current situation is that the plastic recycling in the country is creating more problems and with the influx of plastic waste import it is getting aggravated. If imported, India should also import the technology along with the waste.
- Although plastics contribute only about 7% by weight to MSW, they may contribute 15% or more to the total heat content of MSW. Hydrogen chloride (HCl) gas is emitted during combustion of polyvinyl chloride (or other chlorinated polymers), and may result in corrosion of municipal waste combustor internal surfaces.
STATUES RELATING TO PLASTIC WASTE MANAGEMENT IN INDIA
In the last few years, state and central governments have started paying attention to the issues of plastic waste seriously. Consequently many legislations, acts and rules have been formulated to bring the situation under control. Responsibility to protect the environment and enforcing the existing regulation lies within the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MOEF).
- Government of Himachal Pradesh introduced HP Non-biodegradable Garbage (control) Act 1995 prohibiting throwing or deposing plastic articles in public places.
- The MOEF issued the criteria developed by Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) in association with the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) for labeling 'plastic products' as 'Environment - friendly' under its 'Ecomark' scheme. One of the requirements for fulfilling this criterion is that the material used for packaging shall be recyclable or biodegradable. · The Prevention of Food Adulteration Department of the Government of India issued directives to various catering establishments to use only ‘food-grade’ plastics while selling or serving food items. 'Food-grade' plastics meet certain essential requirements and are considered safe, when in contact with food. The intention is to preventing possible contamination, and to avert the danger from the use of the recycled plastics.
- Recycled Plastics Usage Rules, 1998 were drafted in exercise of the powers conferred by clause (viii) of sub-section (2) of section 3 read with section 25 of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 (29 of 1986). It prohibits usage of carry bags made of recycled plastics for storing, carrying and packing the food stuffs. It allows the usage of carry bags, etc. if the following conditions are satisfied, namely: -
- carry bags and containers made of recycled plastics conform to the specifications mentioned in the Prevention of Food and Adulteration Act, 1954 and the rules made there under;
- such carry bags and containers are not pigmented :
- the minimum thickness of carry bags made of recycled plastics shall not be less than 25 micron; and
- reprocessing or recycling of plastics is undertaken strictly in accordance with the Indian Standards, IS 14534 :1998 entitled " Guidelines for Recycling of Plastics" published by the BIS and the end product made out of recycled plastics is marked as "recycled" along-with the indication of the percentage of use of recycled material.
- The minimum thickness of carry bags made of virgin plastic shall not be less than 20 micron.
- Recycled Plastic Manufacture and Usage Rule (1999) addresses the issue of plastic bag. The rule prohibits the usage of carry bags and containers made of recycled plastic bags for storing, carrying and dispensing or packaging of foodstuffs. It mandates the use of only virgin bags of 20 micron of natural colour without any dyes and pigments for packaging foodstuffs. The rule specifies minimum thickness of the carry bags of virgin  plastic to be of 20 micron and of the recycled plastic to be of 25 micron. It allows the use of recycled poly bags of a minimum thickness of 25 micron for non-food applications provided the dyes and pigments used conform to the specification in the Food Adulteration Act. The rule calls for recycling of plastics to be carried out according to the Guidelines for Recycling of Plastics
- Guidelines for Plastics Packaging and Packaging Waste in India aims to 4 prevent the production of packaging waste, encourage reuse of packaging, recycling and other forms of recovering packaging waste thereby reducing the final disposal of such waste. The guidelines cover all plastic packaging used in the market today. They emphasize the need to think of recycling not when the product waste accumulates, but at the start of the development process .
The guidelines call for establishing an organized system for recycling, reuse and recovery of plastics along with appropriate incentives and penalties.
- Guidelines for Recycling of Plastics were published with a view to bring discipline to the recycling practices in the country. These guidelines not only prescribe standards for the segregation and processing of plastic wastes but also instruct the manufacturer of plastic products to mark the basic raw material on the finished product. Also, it is necessary to indicate the percentage of recycled content in the product