In 2019, the Prime Minster of India had expressed the Government's resolve to phase out all single-use plastics in India by 2022. During that year, India also piloted a resolution at the 4th United Nations Environment Assembly seeking to address the pollution caused by single-use plastic items. These actions reflected the Government's eagerness to check the adverse impacts of single use plastic on both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. In line with this, Government of India has taken various steps to control plastic pollution in India. Such steps include constitution of taskforces and preparation of comprehensive action plans at the Union and State/Union Territory levels for elimination of single use plastics and effective implementation of Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016 ("Rules"). Most States and Union Territories have also announced partial or complete prohibition on use of plastic bags and/or single-use plastic items.
Earlier this year, in March 2021, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change ("MoEFCC") had issued draft amendments to the Rules inter alia proposing to phase-out manufacture, use, sale, import and handling of certain single-use plastic items ("Draft Amendment").1 After due consideration of the responses received from various stakeholders, MoEFCC has notified the amendments to the Rules on 12 August, 20212 ("2021 Amendment") inter alia prohibiting manufacturing, use, sale, import and handling of identified single-use plastic items having low utility and high littering potential. While these amendments are mostly in line with the Draft Amendment, there have been certain crucial changes in the final notification, as mentioned below.
The following changes have been given effect through the 2021 Amendment:
- Definition of various terms related to plastic waste management
The 2021 Amendment has provided definitions for certain terms that assume relevance for clarity on issues related to plastic waste management and scope of the Rules. Some of these definitions are:
"Non-woven plastic bag" has been defined as, "made up of plastic sheet or web structured fabric of entangled plastic fibers or filaments (and by perforating films) bonded together by mechanical or thermal or chemical means, and the "non-woven fabric" means a flat or tufted porous sheet that is made directly from plastic fibres, molten plastic or plastic films".
"Plastic Waste Processing" has been defined as, "any process by which plastic waste is handled for the purpose of reuse, recycling, co-processing or transformation into new products."
"Single-use plastic commodity" has been defined as, "a plastic item intended to be used once for the same purpose before being disposed of or recycled".
"Thermoset plastic" has been defined as, "a plastic which becomes irreversibly rigid when heated, and hence cannot be remoulded into desired shape."
"Thermoplastic" has been defined as, "a plastic which softens on heating and can be moulded into desired shape."
The specific definitions of these terms are significant to ensure legislative clarity in respect of the scope of the Rules and their application on different items made from plastic. These will also help different stakeholders in understanding their role in the implementation of these Rules.
- Conditions related to different plastic items
The manufacture, import, stocking, distribution, sale and use of plastic carry bags, plastic sheets or like, or cover made of plastic sheet and multi-layered packaging will be subject to the following conditions:
- Thickness of carry bags made from virgin or recycled plastic
has been increased from not less than 50 microns to not less than
seventy-five (75) microns with effect from 30 September, 2021 and
one hundred and twenty (120) microns with effect from 31 December,
2022. However, the requirement for thickness will not be applicable
to carry bags made up of compostable plastic.
Please note that the Draft Amendment proposed to increase the thickness of carry bags from not less than 50 microns to not less than 120 microns with effect from 30 September, 2021. Hence, the 2021 Amendment has provided more time for the industry to comply with this requirement.
- Carry bags and commodities made from compostable plastics need to conform to the specific industrial standards applicable for compostable plastics. The manufacturers or sellers of compostable plastic carry bags or commodities or both are required to obtain a certificate from the Central Pollution Control Board before marketing or selling them. Earlier, these requirements were applicable only for compostable plastic carry bags and not for commodities made of compostable plastic. Hence, the scope of these requirements have been expanded by the 2021 Amendment.
- The thickness of non-woven plastic carry bag should not be less than 60 Gram Per Square Meter (GSM) with effect from 30 September, 2021.
Such increase in thickness of plastic carry bags or commodities made from plastic is intended to allow their reuse and to prevent pollution caused by the litter of light weight plastic carry bags. Please note that prior to the 2021 Amendment, the Rules prohibited manufacturing, import, stocking, distribution, sale and use of carry bags made of virgin or recycled plastic less than 50 microns in thickness.
- Prohibition of specific single-use plastic items with effect from 1 July, 2022
The 2021 Amendment provides that the manufacture, import, stocking, distribution, sale and use of following single-use plastic items, including polystyrene and expanded polystyrene, commodities will be prohibited with effect from 1 July, 2022:
- ear buds with plastic sticks, plastic sticks for balloons, plastic flags, candy sticks, ice-cream sticks, polystyrene [thermocol] for decoration;
- plates, cups, glasses, cutlery such as forks, spoons, knives, straw, trays, wrapping or packing films around sweet boxes, invitation cards and cigarette packets, plastic or PVC banners less than 100 microns, stirrers.
However, this prohibition will not apply to commodities, as mentioned in point (ii), which are made up of compostable plastic.
Please note that the Draft Amendment proposed to prohibit items mentioned in point (i) with effect from 1 January, 2022. However, the 2021 Amendment has ensured that more time is provided for such compliance.
- Prohibition of plastic items going forward
It is very crucial to note that the 2021 Amendment also provides that any notification (as may be issued by MoEFCC in future) prohibiting the manufacturing, import, stocking, distribution, sale and use of carry bags, plastic sheets or like, or cover made of plastic sheets and multi-layered packaging and single-use plastic, including polystyrene and expanded polystyrene, commodities will come into force after the expiry of ten years from the date of the publication of such notification.
This provision means that in case the MoEFCC issues any notification to prohibit manufacturing, stocking, distribution or use of such plastic items in future, the industry and other stakeholders will be provided the time period of ten years before the implementation of such prohibition. This provision was not proposed in the Draft Amendment.
- Aspects related to marking or labelling of plastic items
The 2021 Amendment provides that each plastic carry bag, plastic packaging and multi-layered packaging should provide the following information:
- Name and registration number of manufacturer, producer or brand owner and thickness in case of carry bag and plastic packaging used by the brand owner. Earlier, this requirement was applicable only to manufacturers of plastic carry bags.
- Name and registration number of the manufacturer in case of multi-layered packaging. However, multi-layered packaging used for imported goods has been specifically excluded from this requirement.
- Name and certificate number of the producer in case of carry bags made from compostable plastic. Earlier, this requirement was not specifically applicable to producers.
The 2021 Amendment marks an important step towards phasing out single-use plastic from India by 2022 in line with the announcement made by the Prime Minister. However, the real impact of this amendment in dealing with the menace of plastic pollution will be determined on the basis of its implementation and the measures adopted by the Government to support the industry in complying with it. Considering that most states in India had already banned single-use plastic, this amendment further ensures a uniform framework at the national level to address the issues related to plastic waste management.
It is also noteworthy that specific single-use plastic items prohibited vide 2021 Amendment are mostly manufactured, distributed or utilised by MSMEs. Hence, it will be important to assess the impact of such prohibition on these industries before determining its contribution towards plastic waste management in true spirit.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.