India’s plastic waste usage and management rules in various forms have been in force since 1998 but the first major initiative taking into account a broad spectrum of issues and concerns was the Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016, notified by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change on 18 March 2016. This attempted to provide a statutory framework for plastic waste management in the country in an environmentally sound manner and replaced the earlier Plastic Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2011.
Thereafter, after two changes in 2018 and then twice again in 2021, there was a major amendment on 16 February 2022, which included the guidelines on Extended Producer Responsibility(EPR) for Plastic Packaging and a ban on select single-use plastic items, and another minor change on 6 July 2022. The EPR with its financial obligations for non-compliance went into effect on 1 July 2022 for the EPR categories.
The draft amendment of 16 October 2023 significantly categorizes biodegradable and compostable plastics separately. It considers biodegradable plastics for problem packaging such as gutkha, pan masala, and tobacco, and underlines the importance of EPR compliance and buy-back systems for used multi-layered plastic sachets.
The latest draft Gazette notification – Plastic Waste Management (Second Amendment) Rules, 2023 – issued by the Union ministry, divides plastic packaging into five categories with the addition of biodegradable plastics. The five categories comprise – I is rigid plastic packaging; and II is flexible single-layer or multilayer of different types of plastic, including sachets and metallized layers. Category III is for multilayer plastic packaging with at least one layer other than plastic. Category IV is for compostable plastics while the new Category V is for biodegradable plastic packaging – the new and important addition in this draft.
Compostable, biodegradable plastics & gutkha packaging
The use of compostable plastics and biodegradable plastics, however, is permitted only for the manufacture of carry bags, and sachets used for storing, packing, or selling gutkha, tobacco and pan masala and commodities banned under certain rules, with mandatory marking and labeling.
The Central Pollution Control Board may as required, prescribe guidelines to permit the manufacture of further commodities from compostable and biodegradable plastics after the government’s approval, the new draft says. In the new draft, there are changes to the applicability of the thickness provisions for compostables and biodegradables wherein manufacturers will have to obtain a certificate from the pollution control board before marketing or selling such types of packaging.
The Bureau of Indian Standards will prescribe separate colors or markings for plastic packaging and commodities made from biodegradable and compostable plastics to differentiate between them, and to determine their respective end-of-life scenarios.
EPR provisions and buy-back suggested in the new draft
The number of entities that will be covered under the EPR provisions has been expanded to include the manufacturers and importers of plastic raw materials as well as those who make items from compostable plastics and biodegradable plastics. According to the new draft guidelines, the primary responsibility for the collection of used multi-layered plastic sachets or pouches or packaging lies with the producers, importers, and brand owners who introduce the products in the market.
To avoid mixing plastic waste with other solid waste it is suggested to develop a separate waste stream for the collection of plastic packaging waste and directly fulfill the EPR obligations. Producers, importers and brand owners, and manufacturers and importers of plastic can operate schemes such as a deposit refund system or buy-back or any other model. Then, there are reporting obligations and testing and certification norms for biodegradable plastics, guidelines for plastic raw material, and regulation of EPR fees.
Stakeholders have 60 days or two months to submit their objections or suggestions on the proposals after which the notification will be taken into consideration by the government. Thus far, the industry experts we have spoken to suggest that the plastic waste management project is complex in addition to the variety of interests at work or that will be affected. Close study of the document and industry-wide discussion of the complexities and the likely consequences are advisable, apart from each segment filing its own suggestions and inputs keeping the overall objectives in mind.