Comments and Responses to Guideline Document Uniform Framework for
Extended Producers Responsibility (Under Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016)
Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change - June, 2020
The Extended Producers Responsibility (EPR) (Under Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016) is a welcome provision, the necessity of which cannot be overstated. The dramatic increase in plastic pollution with more and more production of single use plastics has local bodies struggling to keep up beyond their capacities. At such a critical juncture, the inclusion of the industry or producers to take responsibility for the plastic waste they are creating is of high relevance.
Our submission is divided into an opening statement, general comments with recommendations, and a section detailing out specific edits in the guidelines, wherever possible.
Plastic pollution has become one of the most challenging problems that the world is facing currently. Just collection and recycling will not solve this problem as seen in the report ‘Production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made’ Geyer R, Jambeck JR, Law KL. 2017 that states 8300 million metric tons of virgin plastics have been produced of which 6900 million metric tonnes was trashed and only 9% recycled. One of the key reasons for such a large volume of plastic ending up as trash is because 50% plastic is being made into single-use items (Plastics Oceans International) which is discarded instantly overwhelming waste management systems. Therefore management of plastics once it has already been generated alone is not going to solve the issue. It is now irrefutable that production systems have to be made responsible and sustainable through designing out of single use products and a rethink on material choices has to be expedited which should be the vision of extended producer responsibility. It is this plastic crisis that EPR needs to respond to by closing the tap on plastic pollution at source.
PM Modi urged people to make India a plastic-free nation during his Independence day speech August 15, 2019. He went on to declare at the UN General Assembly 2019 that India would launch an ambitious campaign to make India Plastic Free, especially single use plastic (SUP) and called for the UN to be SUP free too.
Extended producer responsibility provides an excellent opportunity to move closer to the target of SDG 12 of sustainable consumption and production, and to close the tap on unnecessary plastic production. This can be done by disincentivizing the production of low- value, non recyclable, single use plastic and incentivising sustainable production systems and material choices..
EPR sits on waste management policies and systems and for the mountain states of IHR, the challenges of solid waste management are magnified due to the socio-ecology. The costs involved are higher owing to geographical challenges, the volumes lower and the economics of recovery of plastic and its management that do not add up. This needs to be given special attention. The ecological services provided by the mountains have to be sustained for the future, and special provisions in the EPR through resources and support for the mountains is crucial so that plastic pollution in the mountains is stopped.
Decentralisation is one of the principles that the waste management rules are built on,thus, local bodies are empowered and mandated to take forward waste management including levy fees and enact byelaws. This spirit and practise needs to be upheld while taking forward EPR too.It is also imperative to empower the state machinery as well as delineate clear roles, responsibilities and resources to take forward EPR.
- EPR needs to commit to sustainable production and design
The Uniform EPR Framework misses out on the opportunity of making producers / brand owners adopt sustainable material and design systems for their products to eliminate non- recyclable packaging like multi-layered plastics, styrofoam, etc. The status quo of defining MLPs and other non- recyclable plastics as energy recoverable should not be a justification for continued production of such problematic plastics. This also does not incentivise those that seek to adopt sustainable material and design. In the current scenario of escalating use of single use products, not addressing this issue would be a grave folly. Instead what is being proposed is a system that in effect encourages manufacturers, producers and brand owners to pollute and pay. This proposed logic encourages continued or even increased production of plastic. The framework needs to move from this self-defeating revenue generation arrangement and aim for drastic reduction in the use of single use and non-recyclable plastic like MLPs. This larger vision of reduction of waste to the landfill needs to happen right from the design stage, as envisaged in the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and the indicators in the Swachata Survekshan.
1.1 There has to be strict guidelines for producers to allocate a defined percentage of resources on R & D for sustainable material and design so that phasing out of single-use and non- recyclable products (like multi layered plastics, styrofoam, etc.) and reducing unnecessary plastic packaging within a given time frame can be made possible.
1.2 On the other hand, the continued production of such low value, non recyclable MLPs and others, and use of unnecessary plastic packaging must be strongly disincentivized for the producers through explicitly spelt out provisions of taxation or others, to steer them towards looking at sustainable design and material choices.
- Recognition of challenges of the IHR
The Uniform EPR framework being “geography neutral” does not recognise the socio-ecological specificities and regional needs that exist. It is propounding a one- size -fits -all kind of system that does not work in the diverse landscapes of the nation. Specifically for mountains, where waste management is challenged with higher costs, underdeveloped waste management infrastructure, scattered settlements and low volumes that do not make economic sense for collection and recycling, has to be factored into the framework and given due recognition and resource allocation. More importantly, the ecological fragility and importance of the IHR must be recognised which results in a higher environmental cost in the mountains due to plastic pollution.
2.1 The mountain states be authorised under the framework to levy a cess/surcharge on all plastic items and plastic packaged products entering their states for the creation of a fund to finance better collection and management systems and to cover the higher costs of waste management. The levy can be in the form of a surcharge on GST on plastic goods and plastic packed goods with varying rates depending on the costs for plastic waste recovery for the ULB/PRI and on the type of plastic waste, MLPs, SUPs and non recyclables being charged at a higher rate as a disincentive.
2.2 Viability gap funding provisions to be made for waste entrepreneurs (as PROs) for the mountain states.
- Bringing more clarity on the proposed models
The models form the main component of how the EPR implementation will be actualised. However, overall all the models being proposed are complex and hard to comprehend with very little details provided for either ULBs or producers to move forward. Most importantly it excludes details on the key local bodies and the informal sector who manage waste on a day to day basis. Also making the framework vague leaves room for interpretation of the various stakeholders to suit their own convenience.
Moreover, the framework deems all plastics to be similar which goes against the premise on which the principle of EPR is founded. It is a known fact that low value non recyclable plastics mainly MLPs, styrofoam used in large electronic products, PVC products and other kinds of plastic that do not flow back into the recycling stream are the most problematic, and constitute a large volume of what is found in our landfills. Producers using such kinds of plastics must have heavier disincentives as a deterrent, which the models must clearly specify.
Plastic credits system advances the pay and pollute principle which gives companies free rein to keep producing single use plastics, while offsetting the pollution caused through some processor with no geographical boundary specified. It also enables companies to earn plastic credits through burning of their plastic waste through waste to energy plants that pollute and add to the climate crisis which would be extremely counter productive and does not stem the unsustainable production systems. Encouraging such means of disposing plastic would also mean that much of the recyclables that could be recovered for recycling would also end up being burnt.
Importantly, the spirit of decentralisation with site specific solutions that has been embodied in the SWM Rules and PWM Rules of 2016 does not seem to flow into the UFEPR, which proposes more centralised approaches. There are regional specificities in terms of brands and plastic producers which need to be considered and factored in and addressed at the regional and state level. A centralised approach would exclude many of these producers who may be greatly contributing to plastic pollution at a state or regional level, and empowering States/ ULBs to directly be in control of the EPR process would be the correct approach. Likewise a centralised approach would not necessarily result in reduction of plastic pollution at the regional level some of which might be of great ecological significance.
New technology, including block chain is being contemplated, to monitor and generate data and there will be many areas which cannot be covered due to practical reasons.
The value that can be got out of the collection in the mountain areas is going to be miniscule in terms of both volume, spread and sheer cumbersomeness of logistics. But at the same time the effects of plastic pollution in the fragile Himalayan ecosystem would be catastrophic.
3.1 A complete relook at the models being proposed is recommended based on transparency and accountability. The models should also empower states and local bodies that manage waste on a day to day basis.
3.2 Clear specifications on the various categories of plastics that are being used by the various PIBOs with targets based around the different categories and the corresponding fees for management.
3.3 Provision for ULBs and other local bodies for data sharing on producers and to engage directly with producers to design their own framework with PROs or without has to be specified clearly.
3.4 Provide authority to ULBs and other bodies to take action against non complying companies.
3.5 Plastic credits should not be applicable across different types of plastic eg: non-recyclable MLP for recyclable PET.
3.6 The fee based model needs much more clarity to ensure it does not end up creating a corpus which in the end is very centralised, does not empower local bodies to improve waste management and remains unutilised. How would this corpus be shared with the states is also to be specified. While it has been set up for smaller companies with less plastic generation, geographical footprints on the presence of these companies should be mapped so that states who fall under that could accrue maximum benefit.
3.7 Process for target setting for PIBOs to be made more transparent and with larger stakeholder involvement.
3.8 Geographical boundaries for the plastic credits mechanism must be set to ensure that plastic pollution caused by the producers in mountain states do not get overlooked. There must be some provision for recovery of plastic waste from mountain states to be given special preference by the PIBOs.
3.9 As mentioned in 2.1 for mountain states, a cess on plastic packaging being brought into the state has to be made mandatory.
3.10 A labeling system must be designed to enable consumers to choose products of producers who are participating in the EPR scheme through a mark on the package, such as the Green Dot scheme.
3.11 Incentives to producers who innovate design systems in reaching their products to the consumers through bulk and package free buying systems minus the plastic packaging should also be provided.
- Strengthening Institutional framework
The institutional framework is not detailed out and there is little room for transparency and accountability of the process of implementation of EPR if one is outside of the plastic industry. Accountability of the actors is missing and penalty mechanisms are not specified. Registration of all stakeholders is mandated but the process for producers to furnish the correct details is very unclear leaving much room for discrepancy. There is no clarity or a process of empowerment of these local bodies to access the resources and systems to ensure the implementation of EPR.
4.1 Spelling out clear institutional pathways for action is necessary to ensure that these institutions would work efficiently and in convergence to fulfill the goals of UFEPR, without which the implementation is doomed to be a failure. Roles and responsibilities of each stakeholder must be clearly spelt out.
4.2 Local bodies must be empowered for implementation of EPR. States must be enabled to make EPR accountable and to access the resources of EPR.
4.3 There needs to be clear strategies for making all stakeholders informed and aware of this framework to ensure inclusiveness and that existing smaller players who are currently engaged in the providing the much needed service of waste recovery do not ultimately lose out.
5.1 Panchayati Raj Institutions and traditional bodies need to be included in the same language and space when the guidelines talk about ULBs as these rural and traditional bodies serve the same function as the ULBs and are the main vehicles of Swachh Bharat Mission. The inclusion also must note the issues raised for the inclusion and empowerment of ULBs in the EPR guidelines.