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Legislative frameworks for Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) for plastic waste in India

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Legislative frameworks for Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) for plastic waste in India are critical in managing plastic waste in India. With the increasing concern over environmental pollution and the detrimental effects of plastic waste on ecosystems, EPR has emerged as a fundamental approach to ensure that producers and manufacturers take responsibility for the complete life cycle of their plastic products. In this blog, we will delve into the legislative frameworks for EPR for plastic waste in India, discussing its implementation’s history, significance, and challenges.

Introduction

  • With its booming population and increasing consumption, India faces a colossal plastic waste problem. This challenge has pushed the country to adopt innovative strategies to manage plastic waste effectively. Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) has emerged as a central policy tool to address this issue, shifting the responsibility from consumers and municipalities to the producers of plastic products. The legislative frameworks for EPR in India have evolved to keep pace with the growing environmental concerns associated with plastic waste.

Historical Context

  • The concept of EPR in India can be traced back to the Environmental Protection Act 1986. However, it was only in the 21st century that the idea gained prominence in the context of plastic waste. In 2011, India’s Ministry of Environment & Forests introduced the Plastic Waste Management Rules (PWMR), which marked a significant step towards managing plastic waste through EPR. Later, revised in 2016 and 2018, these rules laid the foundation for EPR implementation in the country.

Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016

The Plastic Waste Management Rules 2016 were a watershed moment in India’s efforts to manage plastic waste through EPR. These rules mandated that producers, importers, and brand owners take responsibility for collecting, segregating, and disposing of plastic waste generated from their products. It introduced several key provisions:

  • EPR Targets: Producers were required to meet specific targets for collecting and recycling plastic waste based on the quantities they introduced into the market. These targets encouraged producers to participate in the waste management process actively.
  • Registration: Producers must register with the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to ensure compliance with EPR obligations.
  • Plastic Waste Management Fee: Producers not meeting their EPR obligations had to pay a Plastic Waste Management Fee, which would be used to support the plastic waste management infrastructure.
  • Responsibility of Local Bodies: The rules clearly outline the roles and responsibilities of local bodies in facilitating the collection and disposal of plastic waste.

Challenges in Implementation

Despite the robust legal framework established by the Plastic Waste Management Rules, there have been challenges in its implementation:
  • Lack of Awareness: One of the significant issues is the lack of awareness among producers and the general public regarding their roles and responsibilities under EPR.
  • Enforcement: The enforcement of EPR obligations has been inconsistent, with many producers failing to meet their targets, and there have been limited consequences for non-compliance.
  • Informal Sector: The informal sector handles a significant portion of plastic waste management in India, which often operates outside the regulatory framework.
  • Lack of Infrastructure: Adequate infrastructure for plastic waste collection, segregation, and recycling is lacking in many regions, which hampers the effective implementation of EPR.

Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2018

Recognising the challenges in implementing EPR, the Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change (MoEF&CC) revised the Plastic Waste Management Rules in 2018.

The 2018 rules aimed to strengthen EPR and address some of the challenges that arose under the 2016 rules:
  • Single-Use Plastic Ban: The 2018 rules took a more comprehensive approach by banning certain single-use plastics, such as plastic bags and straws.
  • Incentives for Recycling: To promote recycling, the 2018 rules mandated that producers contribute to the Plastic Waste Management Fund, which would be utilised to develop recycling infrastructure.
  • Strengthened EPR Targets: The rules raised the EPR targets for producers, emphasising the need for greater involvement in waste management.

The Role of Producers

Producers, including manufacturers, brand owners, and importers, play a pivotal role in EPR implementation in India. They are legally obligated to establish systems for collecting and recycling plastic waste associated with their products. This responsibility has spurred innovation in waste management practices, with many producers collaborating with waste management companies and NGOs to meet their EPR targets.

Challenges in Compliance

Despite the legislative frameworks, there are challenges in ensuring compliance with EPR:
  • Monitoring and Reporting: Effective monitoring and reporting mechanisms are required to ensure producers meet their EPR obligations. The lack of transparent reporting systems and enforcement mechanisms can hinder compliance.
  • Proper Disposal: The responsibility for adequate disposal of plastic waste often falls on the local bodies, which may lack the resources and infrastructure to manage it effectively.
  • Informal Recycling Sector: While integral to the recycling ecosystem, the informal recycling sector operates unregulated, and integrating it into the formal system remains challenging.

The Way Forward

To enhance the effectiveness of EPR for plastic waste management in India, several measures can be considered:
  • Awareness and Education: Initiatives are crucial to raise awareness among producers, consumers, and local authorities about the importance of EPR and plastic waste management.
  • Strengthening Enforcement: Stricter enforcement of EPR obligations and penalties for non-compliance can encourage producers to fulfil their responsibilities.
  • Investment in Infrastructure: Building and upgrading waste management infrastructure, particularly recycling facilities, is essential for the success of EPR.
  • Incentives for Innovation: Encouraging innovation in plastic product design and recycling technologies can reduce the environmental impact of plastic waste.
  • Integration of the Informal Sector: Recognising and regulating the informal recycling sector can help streamline the plastic waste management process.

Conclusion

India’s legislative frameworks for Extended Producer Responsibility for plastic waste have evolved over the years, with the Plastic Waste Management (PWM) Rules of 2016 and 2018 being crucial milestones. EPR has shifted the onus of plastic waste management from consumers and local authorities to producers, importers, and brand owners. While progress has been made, challenges in implementation persist, including the lack of awareness, enforcement, and infrastructure. Solving these challenges and fostering a culture of responsibility among producers and consumers is vital to successfully managing plastic waste in India. With a continued focus on EPR, India may work towards a cleaner & more sustainable environment, reducing the adverse impact of plastic pollution on its ecosystems and society as a whole.

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!