The huge volumes of leakages in plastic wastes demands a clarion call for a recycling revolution in the country.
India launched a nationwide awareness campaign on Single Use Plastics on World Environment Day this June. The message from the environment minister was clear, “Plastic per se is not a problem, it is uncollected plastic waste that is”. While India prepares to phase out single use plastics, the message from the environment minister made an important point. Plastics are going to stay with us as not all plastics are bad. Only certain plastics which cannot be recycled gets dumped un-managed. Same is true for any material that has little recycling potential in the region in which it is generated. India’s recycling rates are low viz-a-viz the volumes of waste it generates. As per Material Recycling Association (MRAI) India’s recycling rates stands at 30% sup>. The data associated with this recycling rate is largely dominated by highly recyclable materials such as ferrous & non-ferrous scrap, paper, rubber, and tyre etc. Recycling of materials such as plastics is not very well documented. The litter that we see around and India’s policy focus on plastic waste are indicators of the fact that this resource is at the bottom of the chart in recycling rates.
Recycling of plastics is largely informal. The Number of plastic recyclers is small in the country and not very well documented. India’s apex authority on pollution control, Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) in its annual report of 2018-19 estimated that India generated about 13 Lakh tonnes of plastics annually. Same report said that the country has about 5000 registered plastics manufacturing/recycling units and about 1000 unregistered units. Many states did not report number of recyclers available and none of the states reported what is the installed capacity of these plastic recycling units .
There is a saying that what gets measured, gets managed. The huge volumes of leakages in plastic wastes demands a clarion call for a recycling revolution in the country. India historically has been a resource smart country. Technology to convert organic waste to biogas dates back 70-80 years in the country. More recent example is recycling of Construction and Demolition Waste. The first C&D waste recycling plant came into operations about 7 years before the C&D waste rules were notified in 2016. The long history of poverty and thrive to develop from limited available financial resources has made the populace doing more with less. Recycling supports this frugal approach. Policy wise India is very well placed. The 2016 rules and subsequent amendments were made in the right direction. All that is needed is the right implementation of these rules. India needs to shift its focus to seeing waste as a resource and develop technology around utilisation of these resources which are leaking in the environment and haunting us back with diseases.
The writer is Technical Advisor-Climate Change at GIZ.