The Ministry of environment, forests and climate change (moefcc) has taken a step towards plastic waste management by increasing the use of recycled plastic packaging. In August last year, it launched the 2021 plastic waste management (Second Revision) rules, which allow recycled plastics to be used in the storage, carrying, distribution or packaging of ready to eat or beverage items. While the amendment emphasizes the importance of complying with appropriate standards and regulations under the food safety and Standards Act 2006, a leading polymer scientist said that the existing regulations and frameworks for the definition and management of plastic waste need major reforms to win the confidence of the food industry.
"The problem of littering has become insurmountable. Therefore, the government has to intervene, but it is difficult to understand that it suddenly jumps from 'should' to 'can' without infrastructure, safeguards and appropriate regulatory mechanisms," said Dr. Vijay g. habbu, senior polymer scientist and adjunct professor at the Institute of Chemical Technology in Mumbai.
Until 2016, handbags or products made of recycled plastics shall not be used for the storage, carrying, distribution or packaging of ready to eat or drinking food. Later, recycled plastics or newspapers used to package food were also included in the ban list by the food safety and Standards Agency (fssai), India's food regulator. However, under the second amendment, the government not only allows the use of recycled plastics for food packaging, but also allows large companies to suspend the use of disposable plastic products for 10 years and set a target of 30 years. The percentage of plastic packaging recycled by 2023, and the recycled content in plastic is mandatory to reach 60% by 2026. The government justified the measure by citing the great harm caused by waste plastics to terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.
At present, India recycles about 60% of plastic waste, most of which is completed by informal labor force. These labor forces mainly rely on unscientific methods to produce plastic particles, which has aroused people's concerns, especially about the pollution and purity of recycled plastics.
"Regulations and frameworks that define plastics and manage plastic waste management are a current need. Banning plastics is not a solution because it is impossible to get rid of them and find alternatives. We should encourage people to reuse plastics as much as possible. However, when you succumb to regulations, you cannot say that it applies only to specific brands that use the best available human resources, tools and technologies to manage the recycling process. Unfortunately, existing recycling enterprises This is not the case for a large part of the state system. So once you open it, you open a gate of impurities that have a serious impact on food safety, "Dr. HAB said.
With regard to the government's decision to force the use of 60% recycled plastics by 2026, Dr. habbu said it seemed more out of enthusiasm than pragmatism. "The EU is the most advanced country in food safety. By 2030, they will only allow the use of 30% recycled plastics," he explained, adding that we should not be in a hurry, but should learn from global experience and adopt a sustainable and scientific approach to plastic management.
On the issue of plastic pollution and poor management endangering the environment and ecology, Dr. Habu said: "the problem of plastic is not only its use, but also how we deal with it. Plastic as a material becomes a villain because it litters in a way that leads to improper waste management and eventually pollution, but targeting a set of feasible options is not a solution."
"Everything we use today is made of plastic - water bottles, glasses, containers and pens. We just call it plastic as if it were a single homogeneous material, but that's not the case; it's a complex series of products. Many types of plastics are used to design and form different things, depending on their use and chemical molecular structure," he said.
"We need a grid of practical and littering systems that adequately map all plastics so that the government can determine which plastic is the least practical. Each type of plastic is unique. A recycling process does not apply to everyone. We need a formal ecosystem that is subject to appropriate regulations and frameworks for recycling plastics. This will not only increase transparency, but also reduce waste Promote trust between the public and the industry, "he explained.