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Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) role in promoting plastic waste recycling in India

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Plastic pollution is an environmental concern globally, and India is no exception to this issue. The rapid growth in plastic production and consumption in the country has led to severe environmental and health concerns. To address this problem, Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) has emerged as a key policy tool to promote plastic waste recyclingย and reduce the environmental impact of plastic consumption. This blog explores the role of EPR in promoting plastic waste recycling in India, focusing on its implementation, challenges, and potential impact.

Understanding Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)

EPR is a concept that originated in Europe in the 1990s and has been widely adopted as a policy framework to shift the responsibility for managing post-consumer waste from municipalities and governments to producers and brand owners. Under EPR, producers are held accountable for the complete lifecycle of their products, including their disposal and recycling. The principle is straightforward: those who manufacture, import, or sell products must take responsibility for collecting, recycling, and properly disposing of those products at the end of their life cycle.

EPR aims to promote sustainable consumption and production by encouraging producers to minimise the environmental impact of their products. It is particularly relevant in the context of plastic waste, given the growing concerns about plastic pollution and its detrimental impacts on the environment.

EPR in India: A Policy Evolution

India has had its share of challenges in dealing with plastic waste. The unregulated and inefficient disposal of plastic waste has led to littered streets, clogged drains, and pollution of water bodies. Recognising the need for a systematic approach to address this problem, India introduced the concept of EPR in its plastic waste management framework.

The journey of EPR in India can be outlined as follows:

  • The Plastic Waste (Management and Handling) (PWM) Rules, 2011: These rules marked the initial step in addressing the issue of plastic waste management in India. They mandated that manufacturers and brand owners had to manage and dispose of plastic waste generated from their products.
  • Amended Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016: These amendments strengthened EPR provisions. Producers were required to establish a system for collecting plastic waste, either individually or collectively, and ensure that a minimum percentage of plastic waste was recycled. They were also responsible for spreading awareness about proper disposal.
  • E-waste Rules, 2016: Although primarily focused on electronic waste, these rules further emphasised the concept of EPR by holding producers of electronic equipment accountable for its environmentally sound disposal and recycling.
  • Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2018: These rules made EPR a central theme in plastic waste management in India. The rules set specific targets for collecting and recycling plastic waste, making it mandatory for producers to establish collection mechanisms and facilitate the recycling of plastic waste. Additionally, they laid down penalties for non-compliance.
  • Plastic Waste Management (Amendment) Rules, 2021: The latest amendments in 2021 further refined the EPR framework. Producers were required to increase their collection targets, and they were encouraged to take measures to reduce plastic waste generation. The rules also introduced an annual reporting system to track progress.
  • Plastic Waste Amendment Rules, 2022: The recently introduced Plastic Waste Amendment Rules, 2022ย phase out single-use plastic items.

Challenges in Implementing EPR in India

While EPR has made significant strides in India’s plastic waste management, several challenges persist in its implementation:

Lack of Awareness

One of the primary obstacles is the lack of awareness among producers, consumers, and even government agencies about the intricacies of EPR. Effective implementation requires education and awareness campaigns to inform stakeholders about their roles and responsibilities.

Inadequate Infrastructure

India’s recycling infrastructure is underdeveloped and ill-equipped to handle the volume of plastic waste generated. Producers often struggle to set up efficient collection and recycling systems due to a lack of recycling facilities and technology.

Enforcement and Compliance

Despite stringent rules and penalties, enforcement and compliance remain problematic. Many producers do not fully adhere to EPR obligations, and regulatory bodies may not have the resources or authority to enforce the rules effectively.

Informal Recycling Sector

India has a significant informal recycling sector that often operates outside the formal EPR framework. Integrating these informal recyclers into the system and ensuring their fair treatment is a complex challenge.

Extended Supply Chain

EPR introduces the concept of the extended supply chain, which includes multiple stakeholders, from manufacturers to consumers. Coordinating and monitoring these various players can be difficult, particularly in a country as vast and diverse as India.

Financial Implications

Establishing collection and recycling systems, along with awareness campaigns, can be financially burdensome for producers. They may pass these costs on to consumers, affecting the affordability and availability of products.

Potential Impact of EPR on Plastic Waste Recycling

Despite the challenges, EPR holds the potential to bring about a significant positive impact on plastic waste recycling in India:

Increased Collection and Recycling

The core objective of EPR is to enhance the collection and recycling of plastic waste. By making producers financially responsible for managing their products’ end-of-life stage, EPR incentivises the establishment of efficient waste management systems.

Incentives for Sustainable Design

EPR encourages producers to design products with recyclability in mind. This can lead to the development of eco-friendly packaging and reduced use of single-use plastics.

Public Awareness

EPR obliges producers to invest in public awareness campaigns about plastic waste management. This can help educate consumers about responsible consumption and disposal practices.

Job Creation

Developing a formal recycling industry can generate employment opportunities, particularly for marginalised communities engaged in informal waste picking and recycling.

Resource Conservation

Recycling plastic waste conserves valuable resources, reduces energy consumption, and decreases the environmental impact associated with virgin plastic production.

Environmental Benefits

Proper plastic waste management helps mitigate the environmental damage caused by plastic pollution, including reduced litter, cleaner water bodies, and less harm to wildlife.

Case Studies

Successful Implementation of EPR in India

Various case studies showcase the successful implementation of EPR in India:

  • Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL): HUL, one of India’s largest consumer goods companies, has embraced EPR by setting up plastic waste collection and recycling mechanisms. They have also launched initiatives like “Sachet Recovery” to collect and recycle plastic sachets, demonstrating the company’s commitment to environmental responsibility.
  • Procter & Gamble (P&G): P&G has partnered with local recycling organisations to implement EPR for its brands. They have set up collection centres in multiple cities, contributing to efficient plastic waste management.
  • Coca-Cola: Coca-Cola India has tried promoting recycling and plastic waste management. They have partnered with various NGOs and recycling organisations to facilitate the collection and recycling of their PET bottles.

Plastic Waste Management by Industries

Various industrial sectors, including the packaging and automobile industries, have initiated EPR programs to manage their plastic waste. These programs focus on setting up collection systems and partnering with recycling facilities.

Conclusion

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) has emerged as a crucial policy tool in India’s efforts to combat plastic waste pollution. While challenges persist in its implementation, the concept has made significant strides in promoting plastic waste recycling and holding producers accountable for the environmental impact of their products. As the government and industries continue to work towards strengthening the EPR framework and increasing awareness, it is hoped that India will make substantial progress in managing plastic waste and mitigating the environmental harm caused by plastic pollution. Ultimately, EPR can transform India’s plastic waste management landscape and contribute to a more sustainable and environmentally responsible future.

Diksha Khiatani

A writer by day and a reader at night. Emerging from an Engineering background, Diksha has completed her M. Tech in Computer Science field. Being passionate about writing, she started her career as a Writer. She finds it interesting and always grabs time to research and write about Environmental laws and compliances. With extensive knowledge on content writing, she has been delivering high-quality write-ups. Besides, you will often find her with a novel and a cuppa!