Industry ennui could lead to catastrophic crisis

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plastic waste management rules

We are past to the various deadlines set by the government on implementation of the Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016. If the powers that be decide to go ahead and rigidly enforce this legislation as framed, all hell will break loose.

I am really amazed by the ennui and inaction displayed by industry and institutions across the board – packaging convertors, industry associations, municipal bodies and, most of all, brand owners across the entire spectrum of consumer packaged goods. What they do not seem to realize is that the entire economy will come to a grinding halt and the man-in-the-street and consumers will be faced with a crisis of catastrophic magnitude if the rules are enforced as framed.

The rules, which were notified on 18 of March 2016,  very categorically state under Responsibility of Producers, Importers and Brand Owners that:

  1. The producers, within a period of six months from the publication of these rules, shall work out modalities for waste collection system based on Extended Producers Responsibility and involving State Urban Development Departments, either individually or collectively, through their own distribution channel or through the local body concerned.
  2. Primary responsibility for collection of multi-layered plastic sachets or pouches or packaging is of Producers, Importers and Brand Owners who introduce the products in the market. They need to establish a system for collecting back the plastic waste generated due to their products.
  3. Manufacture and use of non-recyclable multi-layered plastic shall be phased out in Two years time.

The rules further specify that “No producer shall on and after the expiry of of a period of Six Months from the date of publication of these rules in the Official Gazette manufacture or use any plastic or multilayered packaging for packaging of commodities without registration from the concerned State Pollution Control Board or the Pollution Control Committees.”

From what I know, none of the people cited as responsible for action has done anything whatsoever to fall in line with these rules. If I were a shareholder or stakeholder in any of the companies involved in the consumer goods industry or the packaging industry, I would be fully justified in being seriously aggrieved and feeling let down by top management and the blue-eyed boys running these organizations. I could even term this gross negligence.

The facts of the issue
While I would agree that the government’s approach is really quite untenable, why has nobody tried to get across to them and make their problems known?

The reality is that this legislation is quite impossible to implement.

The government gas got the solution all wrong. Their attitude is tantamount to saying that since automotive fuels like petrol and diesel are the largest source of atmospheric emissions leading to Greenhouse Gas Pollution, they should be banned. The travesty of the situation is that they should handle the problem in the same way they are tackling fuel emissions (which is really quite commendable). The way out is not in banning automotive fuels but in putting in place a host of initiatives like improved fuel formulations, tighter controls on emissions, technological alternatives (like electric cars), more fuel-efficient vehicles and, most important of all, focused and intensive consumer education.

The consumer packaged goods industry, the packaging industry, industry associations (including organizations like the IIP), academia and consumer organizations need to all rally and get together and present their case to the government, as I have made clear in a separate article in this issue, that banning plastics and multi-layered structures is well nigh impossible. We just do not have viable alternative packaging systems available, at least at the moment. The alternatives actually lead to many times more resources being used, much higher carbon footprints and material costs going through the roof. We will actually end up putting producers and consumers to severe inconvenience in addition to running out of non-renewable resources many millenia faster and well before the ‘doomsday’ forecast in the present scenario. This is explained in greater detail in the other article referred to above.

The need for pro-active measures and initiatives can hardly be reiterated. In fact, these should have been set in motion two years ago. It is industry that has to bell the cat and lobby their interests with the government. To expect the municipal bodies and State Pollution Control (who have an equally impossible remit) to act is nothing short of hallucination.

If action is not taken immediately, industry could well end up in a face-off with a government that has already caused serious wide-scale discontent and inconvenience with measures like demonetization.

Anybody who wants to read the Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016 can access them through this link on our website: https://bit.ly/2Gvpe3h. See also page 12 of this issue.

The Covid-19 pandemic led to the country-wide lockdown on 25 March 2020. It will be two years tomorrow as I write this. What have we learned in this time? Maybe the meaning of resilience since small companies like us have had to rely on our resources and the forbearance of our employees as we have struggled to produce our trade platforms.

The print and packaging industries have been fortunate, although the commercial printing industry is still to recover. We have learned more about the digital transformation that affects commercial printing and packaging. Ultimately digital will help print grow in a country where we are still far behind in our paper and print consumption and where digital is a leapfrog technology that will only increase the demand for print in the foreseeable future.

Web analytics show that we now have readership in North America and Europe amongst the 90 countries where our five platforms reach. Our traffic which more than doubled in 2020, has at times gone up by another 50% in 2021. And advertising which had fallen to pieces in 2020 and 2021, has started its return since January 2022.

As the economy approaches real growth with unevenness and shortages a given, we are looking forward to the PrintPack India exhibition in Greater Noida. We are again appointed to produce the Show Daily on all five days of the show from 26 to 30 May 2022.

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– Naresh Khanna

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