Turning the tide on plastic pollution
Marking the 150th birth anniversary of the Father of the Nation, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's renewed initiative for environmental cleanliness received a fillip when he announced on Sunday of his new resolution against plastic from October 2. Going ahead with his appeal for a plastic-free India, he took to Mann Ki Baat, his monthly radio show, urging citizens to join hands in curbing single-use plastic. There is definitely a need for the general public to be sensitised towards the perils of plastic pollution as a significant amount of discarded plastic comes from common people from everyday usage. What might be most unexpected and surprising is that this next-level cleanliness drive will have an impact on not just the physical environment but also give a boost to the economy in novel ways. The Indian Railways has admirably taken the lead in enforcing a ban on single-use plastic on trains and its premises starting from October 2, 2019. 1,853 plastic water bottle crushing machines are to be installed at 360 major stations in the first phase and Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Development Corporation (IRCTC) is asked to implement the return of plastic drinking bottles as part of extended producer responsibility. A general guideline relevant for all is to encourage vendors from refraining from using plastic carry bags. Cultivating an attitude of generally reducing, reusing and refusing plastic products and turning to inexpensive reusable bags is something to go a long way in restoring the environment by reducing plastic footprint. The menace of single-use plastic is a problem that demands immediate attention. It clogs drains, worsens roads, pollutes rivers and important water bodies, and causes death of animals. Incinerating plastic does not solve any problem as the fumes and toxic elements thus released in the air make their way back into our lungs. It is the common people who will be most affected by the menace of plastic pollution so reaching out to common people with this concern to sensitise them will have the desired impact on the ground level. Public engagement activities together with policies, frameworks, and regulations by the government are on their way taking shape and leading India towards tackling plastic pollution. "We are committed to eliminating all single-use plastic by 2022," the Prime Minister had said on World Environment Day on June 5. Apart from the rampant prevalence of single-use plastic in India coming largely from common consumerism, there is another source of terrifying amounts of plastic making their way to India. According to sources, more than 25 countries dumped nearly 1,21,000 metric tonne of plastic waste in India after recycling companies clandestinely imported it. As data inform, 55,000 metric tonne of plastic waste was imported in India from Pakistan and Bangladesh combined for recycling purposes. The import takes place from more than 25 countries including the Middle East, Europe, and the US. Most of it is plastic flakes and lumps made from washing and cutting plastic waste. This business practice is naturally a threat to the country's initiatives to reduce plastic pollution.
With respect to restrictions on the import of plastic, China has set a strong example to emulate. With its National Sword policy, strict regulations are imposed on import of solid waste as raw material. Covered under the ban are plastics such as PET, PE, PVC and PS, paper, and solid waste. This policy of China brings unprecedented restrictions on waste and metal imports in the country but the most striking aspect of this is the unrelenting refusal to plastic from other countries, which, as a matter of fact, has affected economies around the world, making them look towards alternative options. But also, interestingly, the National Sword policy provides commercial opportunities in other markets with recycling units setting out how global waste recycling businesses can capitalise on the changes. Waste and metal managers over the globe increasingly relied on China to import and process vast quantities of plastic, paper, metal, and other recyclable waste. So, to address their own domestic issue, the National Sword policy was formalised in February 2018 to ban import of 24 types of waste material and set a tougher standard for contamination levels in others, that has been widely regarded as a "catastrophe" and tol have a "devastating impact". Putting in flux the global recycling industry, this import ban makes room for smart business with two main benefits and opportunities: one, exporters who can ensure the lowest contamination and highest purity levels by using advanced sensor-based sorting technology can continue trading allowed products with China and gain real competitive advantage and attract higher revenues from customers who value cleaner products; and two, the clampdown on Chinese waste processing is effectively serving as a catalyst for other governments and recycling industries to explore alternative supply chains. This extra investment provides commercial opportunities for domestic waste sorting and recycling businesses around the world. Suffice it to say, this Chinese policy is not just to the benefit of their domestic economy, but also provides a healthy commercial opportunity to any other economy or business entity interested. Taking cue from this phenomenon, India can not only learn a lesson but also revise it to suit its own requirements.
With India also seeking to mend loopholes in its ban to import waste, there is bound to be set in motion a cycle of economic change both internally and globally. After China, India is the largest economy contributing to marine pollution. Dotted with underdeveloped recycling and waste management sectors, the ban on import of waste will have an impact on investment opportunities in the Indian recycling sector. But to even out that concern, investment scene will still look bright as India has exhibited the necessary political will to further this cause. The Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2018 came along to reduce and manage plastic waste. Very significantly, it included the introduction of extended producer responsibility under which, the producers are made responsible for collecting and processing waste. Also, there are a number of projects for the recycling sector already in the pipeline, bit not executed so far due to lack of capital. Start-ups could engage in this initiative and make financing projects easier. A flow of capital will encourage investors to contribute to the cause. Given India's sprawling size and a boost to entrepreneurship, recycling and waste management sectors have ample scope to thrive. The Prime Minister's special focus on creating a plastic-free environment ultimately serves as a timely check on not just anti-environment activities but also gives a fresh boost to the economic aspect of it.