The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Government of India, released the Draft Plastic Waste Management (Amendment) Rules 2021 on March 11, 2021 and opened it up for public objections and suggestions, with the last date for receiving feedback on or before May 10, 2021.

Did we need an amended Plastic Waste Management Rules ?

The simple answer is yes! However, the darft rules in its correct form has proposed to blanket ban a range of single use plastics items in two phases, added in new definitions, and inserted certain clauses for clarification. But the rules have failed to consider the lack of implementation of the previous rules; the need for robust data management; the need to strengthen informal worker integration, being more than a lip service in terms of engaging and not mandating inclusion.

While the 2016 PWM Rules, was hailed as ‘progressive’ and a step in the right direction, for addressing the issues of multi llayered packaging by phasing it out within two years of the rules, the Plastic Waste Management ( Amendment) Rules 2018, reversed the clause and stated multi-layered plastic which is non-recyclable or non-energy recoverable or with no alternate use’, needs to be phased out. The emphasis on energy recoverable and alternate technologies, adds as a deterent in actually managing the problem of plastic waste.

So here are few missing elements in the current draft:

  1. Prohibition of Manufacturing of Single Use Plastics: 

It is commendable that in line with India’s commitment to phase out Single Use Plastic, the Draft Plastic Waste Management Rules 2021, attempts to define single use plastic items and prohibit the manufacture, import, stocking, distribution, sale and use of following single-use plastic commodities 

Rule 4(2) The manufacture, import, stocking, distribution, sale and use of following single-use plastic commodities shall be prohibited from 1st January, 2022: Ear buds with plastic sticks, plastic sticks for balloons, plastic flags, candy sticks, ice-cream sticks, polystyrene [Thermocol] for decoration.
Rule 4(3) the manufacture, import, stocking, distribution, sale and use of following single-use plastic commodities shall be prohibited from 1st July,2022:
i. single-use plastic (including polystyrene and expanded polystyrene) items: plates, cups, glasses, cutlery such as forks, spoons, knives, straw, trays, wrapping/packing films around sweet boxes; invitation cards; and cigarette packets, plastic/PVC banners less than 100 micron, stirrers.
ii. the above provision shall not apply to commodities (including carry bags) made of compostable plastic material.

However, we believe that items listed as single use needs to be expanded to include wrappings around magazine  and book covers, boxes,  promotional sachets for cosmetics, and other consumable products, plastic including polypropylene packaging used for wrapping flowers/bouquets, cling films, wet wipes, plastic sheets (for spreading on dining table) used in functions for serving food items, irrespective of thickness, and inclusion of plastic  and polypropylene carry bags, as one time single use.

  1. Need to strengthen waste pickers and other informal waste collectors/ and the informal recycling value chain, involvement in plastic waste management:
  1. The Plastic Waste Management Rules 2016,  mandate engagement of waste pickers within the jurisdiction of urban local bodies. However, the rules need to be modified to mandate that wastepickers must be involved in direct collection of plastic waste- separately, or through the existing municipal solid waste collection.
  2.  Under Clause 6 ( 3) The local body for setting up of a system for plastic waste management shall seek assistance of producers and such a system shall be set up within one year from the date of final publication of these rules in the Official Gazette of India: 
  • The setting up such system must be done after consultation with waste pickers and informal recyclers/
  • There should be an explicit section that gives strategic direction on the inclusion of waste pickers especially in EPR implementation that converge with Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016 and Empowering Marginalized Groups- Convergence Between SBM and DAY-NULMguidelines 2018.
  1. Definitions to be included:
  1. Sachets
  2. E Commerce Retailers
  3. Plastic Pens
  4. Chlorinated/ Non Chlorinated Plastics
  1. Clarification on Biodegradable  Plastics: 

Compostable Plastics and Biodegradable Plastics are used interchangeably and as such clarifications need to be explicit

5. Sanitary Waste Plastic  Pouches/ Packaging:

The Solid Waste Management Rules 2016, define sanitary waste as  used diapers, sanitary towels, or napkins, tampons, condoms, incontinence sheets and any other similar waste and guidelines state wrap securely the used sanitary waste like diapers, sanitary pads etc in the pouches provided by the manufacturers or brand owners of these products or in a suitable wrapping material as instructed by the local authorities. In this context,  it might useful for PWM Amended Rules 2021 to specify material used for wrapping, used sanitary waste, given that the material is plastic and provide broad directions on the material used to collect sanitary waste -ideally to be in compliance with the Manual Scavenger Act, so that sanitation workers don’t have to touch the waste. A uniform colour code scheme would be ideal

6. Need for alignment with that National Green Tribunal directions in various cases and need for consistency across various rules: 

  • Explicit mention of Plastic Pens, under the amended rules : Honorable National Green Tribunal, Principal Bench, New Delhi Original Application No. 29/2020
  • Explicit mention to phase out short life PVC and chlorinated plastics: As per order from Honorable National Green Tribunal (Order dt 2.1.2017 in OA 199 of 2014 Direction 18 states)
  • Import of waste paper containing plastic: Order of the National Green Tribunal in the matter of Amit Jain Vs Union of India & Others dated 10/09/2020
  • Enforcement of the liability against ECommerce Retailers using excessive plastic packaging material: The National Green Tribunal on October 22, 2019
  • Restriction on use of plastic bottles and multi layered plastic packages used for packaging of carbonated soft drink and liquor as well as other items:  Order of the National Green Tribunal in the matter of Him Jagriti Uttaranchal Welfare Society Vs Union of India & Others dated 10/09/2020.

7. The Central Pollution Control Board’s annual report’s observation must be taken in consideration on the lack of implementation by States must be taken into account to strengthen the Draft Rules:
*The Rules, must specify fines for State Pollution Control Boards, failing to submit Annual Reports, based on the deadline given
*The 2016-17 Annual Report recommends that SPCBS shall ensure SUDDhave incorporated PWM Rules 2016 in Municipal Bye Laws for its effective implementation. Under 6 (4) The local body to frame bye-laws incorporating the provisions of these rules.

8. State Level Monitoring Committee must compulsorily include representation from waste pickers/ other informal recyclers
The current draft maintains one representative from nongovernmental organisation, however it is extremely important to include representation from representatives of waste pickers and informal recyclers

9. Extended Producers Responsibility: The proposed Standard Operating Procedure for Registration of Producers, Importers & Brand-Owners (PIBOs) Under Plastic Waste Management Rules 2016 (as amended), must be revised to incorporate the changed to the rules and give clear guidance to the regulators on implementation, with inclusion of the informal waste actors

Pinky Chandran, with inputs from Nalini Shekar