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View from India: EPR, a tool for a cleaner environment

Extended producer responsibility (EPR) policy, a regulated measure for the plastic industry, is expected to be a catalyst for keeping the environment clean.

Plastics serve many purposes and as such are useful to mankind. As the plastic industry began to evolve, products were designed for single use, after which they are disposed. As the name suggests, they are used just once before they are thrown away. Broadly speaking, they include grocery bags, food packaging, bottles, straws and cups, collectively known as throw-away or disposal items. The cause for concern is that they are thrown into landfills or garbage bins and often left unattended. This has led to environmental degradation.

“As plastic waste accumulates in landfills and oceans, several countries have come up with an EPR policy. This regulatory measure gives producers of plastic ways to treat or dispose post-consumer products in a systematised manner,” said Ulhas Parlikar, a global consultant in waste management, circular economy, policy advocacy, AFR and co-processing.

The Confederation of Indian Industry webinar 'EPR fulfilment – sharing experiences of stakeholders and the way forward' indicated that EPR is a multi-billion-euro business in Europe. In the Indian context, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change released the draft Uniform Framework for EPR (under the Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016) in 2020.

It is hoped that this waste-management practice becomes an income-generating business and a tool for a clean environment. By its nature, an end-of-life product is getting a second chance. It is reused and recycled into something usable or morphed into some other form, which can be bought back and used for some other purpose. This can be an eco-friendly product commercially available or sold as raw material used in cement kilns or in road construction. In practical terms, EPR can involve a third party identified as the producer responsibility organisation (PRO). The PRO’s job is to manage used products. “EPR is relatively new in India. The Urban Local Bodies is yet to fully implement EPR on the ground. Regulations need to be defined for better clarity on the PRO’s role,” said Nitin Mishra, manager, Corporate EHS, Dabur India Limited.

The EPR chain comprises various stakeholders. “A level playing field needs to be created among stakeholders comprising municipal corporations, waste producers and segregators, and rag pickers. As of now, EPR is personal initiation and yet to become a process-driven exercise,” said Nithika Sailesh, founding member of MobiTrash.

Firms need to build standard procedures that can open up job opportunities for stakeholders. They perform diverse tasks like waste collection, segregation and processing, before it is converted into products for different purposes. By its very nature, large-scale segregation can generate revenue provided the gaps in the system can be filled. In that sense, waste is a municipality asset. India generates 26,000 tonnes of waste every day. Of this, 40 per cent is not collected. The absence of segregation is more a behavioural issue; it results in litter. Just as the logistics chain in the manufacturing industry is automated, EPR can also use automation tools and capture the waste collection, segregation and processing in real time. Technology also offers traceability and accountability across the system. “Capex (capital expenditure) and Opex (operating expenditure) is required to put a system in place,” highlighted Saurabh Palsania, executive director at Dalmia Cement. 

A systematised and formalised approach is required for waste management. “Some companies have gone that extra mile to create eco-friendly products out of plastic waste. We got the ground running and got waste segregators, agencies and various state governments to spread awareness through campaigns,” added Dr Atul Sud, director legal, regulatory and government affairs, Perfetti Van Melle India Pvt. Ltd.

Looking back, EPR in the Indian context happened in 2012. It was to do with electronic-waste (e-waste) management. When Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016 happened, plastic manufacturers came under the gamut of EPR. With this, the producers, importers and brand owners of plastic become accountable for managing the end waste. The 2020 draft EPR rules has put out the mechanism through which it happens. 

We have just scratched the surface, a lot more can be done. “EPR compliance should encourage R&D units and startups to innovate products and materials that are affordable for mass adoption. The regulatory framework should have a clear target and provide incentives to all stakeholders in the value chain,” summed up Christophe Pautrat, head of Global Partnerships and Operations Development at Landbell Group.

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