Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Times – ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members

Sustainability 10

Waste generation is a natural process associated with urbanization, economic development, and population growth. Unmanaged and improperly managed waste from decades of economic growth requires urgent action at all levels of society and from all stakeholders.

Since the year 2018, when United Nations dedicated the World Environment Day to the theme of plastic Atulpollution, there have been various campaigns and initiatives to create mass awareness about the plastic pollution. Globally, governments have taken strict action against Single Use Plastics. However, it is also a fact that plastic has played an essential role in economic growth with its countless applications, it has become a part of our lifestyle. Global primary production of plastic in 2019 was 270 million tonnes. The total quantity of waste generated in low-income countries is expected to increase by more than three times by 2050. We are also aware that about two-thirds of countries have created targeted legislation and regulations for solid waste management, though enforcement varies drastically.

Globally, the implementation of Extended Producers Responsibility (EPR) has been preceded by public awareness about waste segregation at source, creating adequate infrastructure to collect and transport segregated waste for its recycling, and creating a state/province specific action plan for management of municipal solid waste. Through EPR industries also envisages sensitizing and incentivizing the waste pickers to collect the post-consumer MLP.

Plastic waste is an important environmental issue to be addressed in India, with 25,000 MT of waste produced every day, out of which over 10,000 remains uncollected. The story on plastic waste management in India added a new chapter while notification of Plastic Waste Management Rules 2016, with the concept of EPR at its core. Figure-1 outlines the series of regulatory actions on plastic waste in India:

Figure-1: Regulatory actions on plastic waste undertaken by Government of India

Recently, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change released the uniform framework of Extended Producers Responsibility (EPR) that would implement through a digital platform as per the roles and responsibilities of various stakeholders defined under Plastic Waste Management Rules 2016. WeCare has been providing thought leadership to its Industry members and played an instrumental role in forging a consortium of environmentally conscious businesses to partner with urban local bodies, non-governmental organizations and other groups for India’s first joint Extended Producer Responsibility (known as EPR) initiative to recover and repurpose post-consumer multilayer packaging waste. In 2017, WeCare launched the first joint EPR initiative, setting the stage for public-private partnership in the EPR space to recover and repurpose the post-consumer multilayer packaging. The objective was to conduct pilot studies and develop potential solutions for recovering and re-processing post-consumer MLP.

Figure-2: Proper Solid Waste Management: A key to delivering Sustainable Development Goals

Source: Wasteaid.org

Since 2016, WeCare members have undertaken various initiatives for implementation of EPR. The waste value chain consists of door to door collection, waste pickers, dry waste collection centres, collection points, local aggregators, scrap dealers, and resident welfare associations, societies, and institutions. Over the years, WeCare and its members have gained sufficient experiential learning to suggest that driving any self-sustainable waste management model would require waste segregation-at-source at its core. Several dry-waste collection centres were set-up in multiple metro cities with help of local NGOs, waste management agencies, and waste management businesses. The program also focussed on encouraging citizens on source segregation of waste.

The proper segregation of solid waste in dry and wet waste at the household level would not only allow the dry waste to continue to be valuable for downstream waste value chain but also has tremendous potential to help in achieving the global sustainable development goals. From WeCare perspective, we would elaborate upon key enablers where industry has been working aggressively to address the challenge of plastic waste management:

  1. Making the multi-layered packaging waste more valuable:

There were huge concerns around collection of MLP since it is light in weight and the waste pickers did not get any incentive for picking it up. This resulted into MLP ending up in landfills or being littered on the roads. WeCare members have collectively managed to sustainably dispose 1,50,000 MT by end of 2019. This effort has ensured that waste workers that have been involved in this process are getting more value on account of collected MLP and thereby helped in improvement for their earning potential. We believe furthering our efforts would add value towards achieving the SGD goal 1; no poverty.

  1. Reduction, Reuse and better recyclable materials.

WeCare members are committed towards demonstrating industry leadership for sustainable management of plastic packaging and promote efforts on circular economy; work proactively with waste management agencies, states and urban local bodies as applicable. Few member companies have voluntarily took a pledge to showcase their commitment towards effectively managing plastic waste. Where possible, the industries are working towards optimizing the use of plastic in their packaging and reducing it wherever possible. In line with recommendation under the National Resource Efficiency Policy, we have requested the authorities to define the recycled content standards for introduction of minimum recycled content in food packaging material to promote circular economy. The Industry is also exploring alternative packaging materials. Finding the right suitable alternative option requires extensive research and the companies have already embarked on this journey.

  1. Consumer Awareness and Local Stakeholders:

Without consumer awareness, robust waste management system will not be sustainable. As highlighted earlier, segregation at source is the most critical step for implementing an effective waste management system, as only segregated waste can act as a resource for multiple end of life solutions.  We feel that to align with SDG-11, Sustainable cities and communities, it is essential for industries to continue undertaking Information, Educational and Communication activities and instil a change in behaviour on waste segregation amongst consumers.

The cities and local governments, along with stakeholders, are crucial for solving this crisis. It is vital to enhance the capacity of cities and local governments for reducing the use of single-use plastics, implementing the 3Rs and proper waste management through stakeholder collaboration, and science-based target setting and its follow-up.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Times – ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members

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