India is one of the world’s top users of plastics, and the industry is anticipated to experience exponential growth in future. While plastics have many advantages, there is growing worry about how they affect the environment, particularly marine ecosystems. India faces a pressing challenge in managing plastic waste, with its growing population and consumption patterns contributing to significant environmental damage.
To address this issue and promote sustainable development, India must embrace circularity in plastics. A circular economy approach aims to reduce plastic waste, maximise the value of resources, and minimise the environmental impact. Circularity in plastics can play a significant part in reducing plastic consumption. Increasing recycling and reuse, and creating biodegradable substitutes are all part of the circular plastic economy.
To promote circularity in plastics, India can introduce new policies that can facilitate the transition. Use of biodegradable plastics and alternative materials such as paper, cloth, and glass are gaining traction. The production and sale of non-biodegradable plastics can be regulated, and incentives can be provided to encourage the use of biodegradable alternatives. Secondly, the introduction of a circular economy roadmap that outlines the targets and actions for transitioning towards circularity can create a framework for implementation. Thirdly, Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) that mandates producers to take back and recycle the plastics they produce is helping to create a closed-loop system.
The recycling industry plays a vital role in enabling circularity in plastics in India. While India has a large recycling industry, it is largely unorganised and informal. However, this industry has the potential to create jobs and reduce waste by recycling it into new products. The industry can collaborate with producers to create a closed-loop system for plastic waste.
Efficient waste collection systems, proper segregation of different types of plastic waste, and preventing contamination can help maintain the quality and value of recyclable plastics. Sorting and categorising the plastics based on their types, colours and quality is crucial as different types of plastics require different recycling processes. Advanced recycling technologies enable conversion of the collected plastic waste into reusable materials through various techniques such as shredding, washing, melting, and extrusion to create new raw materials or products.
Biodegradable plastics are designed to break down quickly in the environment, either through biological processes or composting, reducing their persistence and accumulation. Adoption of biodegradable plastics in various sectors, such as food packaging, can promote circularity and reduce plastic waste.
This approach supports the concept of cradle to cradle manufacturing, where materials are designed to be recycled or returned to the environment without causing harm. Biodegradable plastics can be composted along with organic waste, such as food scraps and yard trimmings. The resulting compost can then be used in agriculture or horticulture, closing the loop by returning the biodegradable plastics to the soil and supporting the growth of new plants.
The supply chain can play a crucial role in promoting circularity in plastics. Circular economy principles aim to minimise waste and maximise the value of resources by keeping materials in use for long. In the context of plastics, the supply chain can contribute to circularity in several ways:
- Sustainable Material Sourcing: The supply chain can prioritise the use of sustainable and recyclable materials for plastic production. This involves sourcing raw materials from suppliers that adhere to sustainable practices and promote the use of recycled plastics in manufacturing processes.
- Design for Recycling: Collaboration between product designers and supply chain professionals is essential for creating products that are easily recyclable and have a longer lifespan. Designing for disassembly, using compatible materials and reducing the complexity of product components can facilitate efficient recycling and promote circularity.
- Reverse Logistics: Supply chain management can incorporate efficient reverse logistics systems for collection, sorting and recycling of post-consumer plastic waste. This involves establishing partnerships with waste management companies, creating collection points and implementing take-back programmes to ensure that plastic waste is properly managed and recycled.
- Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR): The supply chain can play a significant role in implementing EPR programmes. By taking responsibility for the collection and recycling of their products, manufacturers and brand owners can establish efficient collection networks and support the development of recycling infrastructure.
- Innovation and Research: The supply chain can drive innovation and research efforts to develop new technologies and processes that enhance plastic recycling and promote circularity. This can include investments in research and development, pilot projects and the adoption of state-of-the-art recycling technologies.
Circularity in plastics is crucial for India to address the growing issue of plastic waste. The role of current policies is essential in setting up the foundation.By implementing new policies, supporting research and innovation, and fostering collaboration among stakeholders, India can transform into a circular plastic economy. This will also create a more sustainable and resilient future for the nation.
Shalini Goyal Bhalla MD, International Council for Circular Economy