Tamil Nadu tops in plastic consumption no recycling model in place

Amid growing apprehension that the ban on import of plastic waste could be lifted, following China’s import ban, activists point out that there is no environment-friendly recycling model of plastic waste
Tamil Nadu tops in plastic consumption no recycling model in place
Representative Image

Chennai

China’s import ban on scrap plastic has left activists and environmentalists here worried, as it is likely that the waste from the western world could make its way to the sub-continent, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines. 
With many metros, including Chennai, struggling to implement an effective solid waste management disposal mechanism, the import of scrap plastic, if allowed, will put an immense strain on the recycling infrastructure, which is equipped only to handle domestic production. 
Dharmesh Shah, Policy Advisor, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) said the country imports only post-production plastic, leftover from manufacturing industries. “Unlike China, scrap plastic import is banned in our country. But with China’s upcoming ban, the fear is that the law might be amended if the market opens. It is best to keep the plastic waste outside our country and let the western world deal with their plastic consumption, while we find ways to deal with our growing problem of plastic waste,” said the researcher, adding that Chennai is still grappling with ways to deal with its municipal solid waste, with a sizable portion including plastic waste. 
The problem plaguing the country’s plastic recycling industry is that most of it is disposed by illegal units, using unapproved techniques at a high energy and environmental cost. “There is a lot of informal recycling happening here. In Chennai, this is common on the fringes of dumpyards like Kodungaiyur. These informal units are backyard-run businesses, badly executed and highly toxic,” he said. 
Shah added that the current recycling infrastructure is equipped to handle local production only. “Most of our local plastic consumption goes into the dump yards, only a fraction gets recycled. To start with, there is no understanding of quantum and nature of plastic waste that we are dealing with. The current recycling infrastructure is enough to recycle what we generate locally. If the country plans to open scrap plastic import, more specialised recycling units which follow best practices should be set up and regulated,” pointed out the policy expert. 
GAIA’s report on state of plastics recycling revealed that plastic recycling rates have a low ceiling. “Most plastic resins are not economically or technically viable to recycle. Low oil and gas prices make virgin plastic cheap, which severely undermines recycling markets,” stated the report.
“Recycling is a myth, an industry narrative that portrays plastic as a miracle material, which can be recycled for other materials. That is not true as virgin plastic is added to recycled plastic to make new objects, which don’t last long. Most plastic waste – like chips packets and tetrapacks – cannot be recycled. The only way to deal with plastic waste is to stop generating it in the first place,” said Satyarupa Sekhar, Director, Government Outreach and Advocacy, Citizen Consumer and Civic Action Group (CAG).
This is not the first time that business has boomed around dealing with hazardous material. “There is no successful recycling model. For urban-local bodies, the way out is by incinerating plastic, which means breathing more toxic area,” she added. 
RECYCLING: NOT A PLEASANT PICTURE
GLOBAL SCENARIO:
  • Global annual production increased from 2 million tonnes in 1950 to 381 million tonnes in 2015.
  • By 2050, this is estimated to touch 34,000 million tonnes.
  • Recent data shows that only 9% of all plastic ever discarded since 1950 has been recycled, and the rest became pollution in landfills, dumpsites, incinerator emissions, or oceans.
INDIA’S PLASTIC RECYCLING INDUSTRY:
  • Indians consume 0.6 million tonnes of recycled PET annually.
  • The PET collection rate in India is the second highest in the world at 70%.
  • Saudi Arabia, UAE, Spain and UK are the top exporters of PET bottles to India.
  • Total imports in 2014-15 was USD 20.58 million.
LAWS:
  • The Hazardous and Other Waste (Management and Transboundary Movement) Rules, 2016, bans the import of scrap plastic. India imports only PET and post-production rejects
CHENNAI’S VIEW:
  • TN leads the south Indian states in plastic consumption and manufacturing (9 lakh tonnes at a revenue of Rs 18,000 crores).
  • According to Central Pollution Control Board data, Chennai generates 429 tonnes of plastic waste per day. This is 9.54% of total municipal solid waste.
  • The Greater Chennai Corporation’s estimated generation of Solid Waste per day is 4,500 tonnes. Out of this, consumable plastic is 5.86% and industrial plastic is 1.18%.
  • However, experts said that there is still no clear idea on the quantity of plastic waste generated and the quantum which is recycled.
RECYCLING INFRASTRUCTURE:
  • There are 3,500 recycling operations registered in the country and about 4,000 non-registered.
  • According to the local industry, total recycled plastics in India account for 4 million metric tonnes.
  • Main resins recycled are PET, HDPE, PVC, LDPE, PP and PS.
BUSINESS CHALLENGES:
  • Businesses in the sector operate in a grey area where their operations are not deemed as completely illegal but they are outside the purview of the written laws.
  • Recycling technologies adopted by the sector is largely indigenous and often without pollution control devices.
  • The environmental and health impacts of such operations have been poorly studied.

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