Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (“MoEFCC”) notified Plastic Waste Management Rules in 2016 (“Rules”) for effective and improved collection, segregation, processing, treatment and disposal of the plastic waste in an environmentally sound manner thereby reducing the plastic waste generation and its impact on the environment.

Thereafter, in line with Union Government's intent to phase out the single use plastic by 2022, various States / Union Territories (“UTs”) had imposed partial or complete ban on use of plastic bags and / or single use plastic items. However, considering the high environmental costs associated with management of single-use plastics and to supplement the initiative undertaken by States/UTs, MoEFCC has released draft amendments1 to Rules on 11th March, 2021 inter alia proposing prohibition on the manufacture, use, sale, import and handling of some of the single-use plastic items on a pan India basis. The draft is open for public comments for 60 days for consideration by the central government.

Proposed changes

The proposed amendments to the Rules are mentioned below:  

  1. The draft has expanded the scope of obligations under the Rules to brand owners, plastic waste processors including recyclers, co-processors, etc.

    Although specific aspects like registration, responsibility for collection of plastic material, etc. were applicable on processors and brand owners (respectively) previously also, this amendment has brought them generally within scope of the Rules.
  2. First phase w.e.f. 30th September 2020: The manufacture, importer stocking, distribution, sale and use of plastic carry bags will be subject to the following:
    • Thickness of carry bags made from virgin or recycled plastic has been increased from 50 microns to 120 microns with effect from 30.09.2021. However, this requirement is not applicable for compostable plastic carry bags.
    • Thickness of sheet of non-woven plastic carry bag (essentially made up of sheet or fabric of entangled fibers or filaments bonded together by mechanical or thermal or chemical means) cannot be less than 60 (GSM per square metre) or 240 microns with effect from 30.09.2021. No such requirement was earlier specified.

The increased thickness of these bags seem to be intended to substantially improve collection and recycling of used carry bags. However, it does not specify the thickness requirements for such bags upto 30.09.2021.

  1. Restriction on single use plastics in two phases: The draft defines single use plastic item as a plastic commodity intended to be used once for the same purpose before being disposed of or recycled. The manufacture, import, stocking, distribution, sale and use of certain single-use plastic commodities has been prohibited in two phases:
    • Ear buds with plastic sticks, plastic sticks for balloons, plastic flags, candy sticks, ice-cream sticks, polystyrene [Thermocol] for decoration will be prohibited w.e.f. 1st January, 2022.

      The shorter timeline for these products seem to be driven by relatively easier availability of their sustainable alternatives.
    • Plates, cups, glasses, cutlery such as forks, spoons, knives, straw, trays, wrapping/packing films around sweet boxes; invitation cards; and cigarette packets, plastic/PVC banners less than 100 micron, stirrers will be prohibited w.e.f. 1st July, 2022. Specific exemption has been provided to commodities (including carry bags) made of compostable plastic material.

      The additional timeline for these products seem to be intended to provide extra time for relevant persons to arrange for their sustainable alternatives.
  1. Requirement for compostable plastic commodities:
    • The requirement to conform to Indian Standard: IS 17088: 2008, i.e. Specifications for Compostable Plastics, has been made applicable to carry bags as well as commodities made from compostable plastics. This requirement was earlier applicable only for compostable plastic carry bags.
    • The manufacturers or sellers of compostable plastic carry bag and/or commodities are required to obtain a certificate from Central Pollution Control Board before marketing or selling. Earlier, this requirement was only for manufacturers or sellers of compostable plastic carry bags.
  1. Marking or labelling requirements:
    • In case of plastic carry bags or plastic packaging, name and registration number of producer or brand owner and thickness shall be specified. Earlier, name and registration number of the manufacturer was required on such bags or packaging.
    • In case of multi-layered packaging, name and registration number of the manufacturer shall be specified. However, this now excludes such packaging used for imported goods.
    • In case of compostable plastic carry bags, name and certificate number of the producer shall be specified. Earlier, there was no such requirement.

The campaign against single use plastics has been on for the last few years with the Union Government voluntarily pledging to phase it out by 2022 and different states / UTs coming up with separate set of rules to deal with it. Through this draft, MoEFCC intends to make the laws more effective and uniform across the country. However, the requirement for industries to comply with multiple state-specific compliance requirements still needs to be clarified.  

Considering the challenges faced by the industries in the past, there is a need to find sustainable and economically viable alternatives for such plastic. More importantly, there is a need to develop suitable infrastructure including adequate collection and recycling centres to complete the last loop for a circular economy. It is pertinent that the industries like MSMEs and sectors like FMCG etc. that would be most affected by such regulations are adequately consulted before such laws are brought into effect so that the potential impact of such regulations are suitably assessed.



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