Regulations controlling plastics production, plastics waste and recycling in India


India is one of the largest consumers of plastics products, and approximately 12 million tons of plastic items are consumed every year (2012). Plastics are used in shopping and garbage bags, packaging films, wrapping materials, fluid containers, toys, and many other products. The main concerns with plastic products are the disposal steps. Plastics are non-biodegradable and will remain in the environment for decades. Recycled plastics are even more harmful to the environment than the virgin plastic products, due to mixing of coloring agents, stabilizers, flame retardants, and other additives. It is estimated that the total generation of plastic waste per year in the country is approximately 8 million tons (2010).

There are currently several regulations in India to limit and control the plastic wastes and regulate the plastics industry, with some new rules introduced regularly.

The Environment (Protection) Act of 1986 was the first major regulatory direction by the Indian government, and was intended to establish a good protection system for the environment. It enables the central government to regulate all forms of waste and to handle any specific problems that may present themselves in different regions of India. It is still India’s primary legislation which covers many rules and acts concerning the Environment.

The first government rule on Plastics waste in India was the Recycled Plastics (Manufacture & Usage) Rules, 1999. The intent of this regulation was to control the packaging of food products in recycled plastics and to manage the severe littering problem. There were three main specifications in the Rule:
* The use of recycled and virgin colored polybags for non-food applications was allowed but discouraged for packaging food items.
* All carry bags of size less than 20 microns were banned
* The guidelines for the recycling of plastics were made mandatory

As plastic bags constituted the main littering and waste problem, specific plastic bag regulations in India were dictated by the Plastic Manufacture, Sale and Usage Rules, 1999 which was amended in 2003. These main specifications under these rules are:
* Prohibition of the manufacture, stocking, distribution, or selling of carry bags made of virgin or recycled plastic less than 20 x 30 centimeters in size and 20 microns in thickness.
* Banning the use of recycled plastic bags and containers for storing, carrying, dispensing or packaging of food items.
* Units manufacturing plastic bags are required to register with the respective State Pollution Control Board (SPCB) or Pollution Control Committee (PCC) before starting production.

In a further drive to regulate plastics waste, The Plastics (Manufacture, Usage and Waste Management) Rules, 2009 were intended to supersede the Recycled Plastics Usage and Manufacture Rules 1999. The rules are designed to regulate the use of plastics in its various purposes. These rules stipulate that:
* Carry bags and containers made of virgin plastics shall be in natural shade (no coloring agents used)
* The use of carry bags or containers made of recycled or biodegradable plastics for storing, carrying, dispensing or packaging of food stuffs shall be prohibited
* Carry bags and containers made of recycled or biodegradable plastics and used for purposes other than storing and packaging food stuffs, shall be manufactured using pigments, colorants as per the Bureau of Indian Standards’ specifications, entitled “List of pigments and colorants for use in plastics in contact with foodstuffs, pharmaceuticals and drinking water”;
*No person shall manufacture, stock, distribute or sell carry bags made of virgin or recycled plastics or bio-degradable plastics, which are less than 12 x 18 inches (30 x 45 cm) in size and less than 40 microns in thickness
* No person shall manufacture carry bags, containers, pouches or multilayered packaging from biodegradable plastics unless these meet the Bureau of Indian Standards’ specifications, entitled “Specifications for Compostable Plastics”.
* In any other instance than the packaging of food stuffs, no persons shall manufacture, stock, distribute or sell non-recyclable laminated plastic or metallic pouches, multilayered packaging and other non-recyclable plastics.
* Recycling of plastics are to be undertaken in accordance with the Bureau of Indian Standards specifications: IS 1453: 1988, entitled “The Guidelines for Recycling of Plastics”.

The latest drive by the Indian government on plastic waste has been to release the Plastic Waste (Management and Handling) Rules 2011, and subsequent Amendment to replace the earlier versions. According to the new rules:
* The minimum thickness of plastic bags has been raised to 40 microns
* Recycled carry bags made from compostable plastics shall conform to specific BIS (Bureau of Indian standards) standards.
* Use of plastic sachets for storing, packing or selling tobacco based products (and local versions) has been banned.
* The municipal authority are required to constructively engage waste pickers, agencies or groups working in waste management.
Another important policy recommendation is that no plastic carry bags shall be made available free of cost to consumers and the municipal authority may determine the minimum price for plastic bags. However, enforcement of these rules are patchy as individual state governments made their own policies regarding the execution of these rules.

In addition to these specific plastic waste regulations, there are also the general hazardous waste rules which cover the plastic wastes. The main legislations for management of hazardous wastes are the Hazardous Wastes (Management & Handling) Rules, 1989 , as amended in 2000 The Hazardous Wastes Rules is a complex set of rules which establish the responsibility for the safe and environmentally sound handling of environmental waste by any plant or factory owner producing hazardous waste or holding hazardous waste. The Hazardous Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules, 1989 , amended in 2000 have been further amended on 20th May, 2003 . Major responsibility for implementing these Rules is with the Central Pollution Control Board and State Pollution Control Boards (SPCBs)/Pollution Control Committees (PCCs) and also with the State Departments of Environment.

India has made definite steps in the right direction towards regulating plastics production and plastic wastes. Consistent and strict enforcement across the different states would improve the efficacy of the current regulations.

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