The miss­ing piece in the plas­tic puz­zle

The T.N. gov­ern­ment’s pro­posed ban risks miss­ing the mark, as multi-lay­ered plas­tics, which ac­count for around 70% of the plas­tics that end up in land­fills, have been left out of its am­bit. Un­like sin­gle-use plas­tics, multi-lay­ered ones can’t be re­cy­cled.

The Hindu - - TAMIL NADU - Deepa H. Ra­makr­ish­nan (With in­puts from Sangeetha Kan­davel)

More of­ten than not, the first thing that comes to mind when we talk about plas­tics is the one-time, use-and-throw carry bag that comes in handy while buy­ing day-to-day pro­vi­sions and other es­sen­tials. Granted, such plas­tic bags are a men­ace, and when burnt, re­lease can­cer­caus­ing car­cino­gens into the air. Also, they don’t al­low per­co­la­tion of rain­wa­ter into the soil and choke plants and aquatic an­i­mals in wa­ter­bod­ies. But th­ese carry bags rep­re­sent just one el­e­ment of the “plas­tic that pol­lutes”.

Multi-lay­ered plas­tics, such as wrap­pers used to keep food items fresh for an ex­tended pe­riod of time, ac­count for 60%-70% of the plas­tics that goes into the mu­nic­i­pal land­fills. How­ever, the State gov­ern­ment’s ban on plas­tics from Jan­uary 1, 2019, does not in­clude this va­ri­ety, which can­not be re­cy­cled and can only be in­cin­er­ated.

Plas­tic man­u­fac­tur­ers’ as­so­ci­a­tions in the State have asked for mul­ti­lay­ered plas­tics also to be cov­ered by the ban on sin­gle-use plas­tics. Point­ing out what they de­scribe as cer­tain gaps in the pro­posed ban, they have urged the State gov­ern­ment to take into con­sid­er­a­tion the large vol­ume of goods that comes in prepacked, multi-lay­ered plas­tics.

As far as re­cy­clable plas­tics are con­cerned, items like milk pack­ets and bro­ken buck­ets nor­mally find their way into re­pro­cess­ing units, since peo­ple pre­fer to sell them off for money, says ecol­o­gist Sul­tan Ahmed Is­mail. “How­ever, in the case of soft drinks and min­eral water bot­tles, this is not hap­pen­ing. Though soft drink com­pa­nies en­sure that buy­ers also pay for the re­cy­cling, they don’t fol­low it up. Most bot­tles carry the re­cy­cling sym­bol on their la­bel, but [the no­tion of ] so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity ends with just that. The plas­tic straws and cut­lery that we get along with take­away food items and eat­a­bles on board flights too are a headache, be­cause no­body seems to want them [for re­cy­cling]. A proper sys­tem of seg­re­ga­tion, col­lec­tion and re­cy­cling must be put in place to en­sure that the col­lected ma­te­rial does not end up in land­fills or water bod­ies,” Dr. Is­mail adds.

Around 6%-7% of the mu­nic­i­pal solid waste dumped in land­fills is plas­tic, 60%-70% of which is multi-lay­ered plas­tic. The Com­mis­sion­er­ate of Mu­nic­i­pal Ad­min­is­tra­tion (CMA) claims it col­lects such non-re­cy­clable plas­tics and sends them to ce­ment fac­to­ries, where they are burnt in the kilns, at high tem­per­a­tures, along with other items like footwear, old clothes, fur­nish­ings and the like. Ce­ment fac­to­ries have been ask­ing for the ma­te­ri­als that are sent to them to be pro­vided with less mois­ture con­tent and in a more com­pact man­ner. The firms have tied up with nearby mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties for the sup­ply of such non-re­cy­clable waste, ex­plains a CMA source.

But that alone will not work, say man­u­fac­tur­ers, since by sin­gle-use plas­tics, the gov­ern­ment no­ti­fi­ca­tion refers pri­mar­ily to plas­tic carry bags, sin­gleuse plas­tic wrap­pers and cups. They want the pro­duc­ers and users of mul­ti­lay­ered plas­tics — FMCG (fast-mov­ing con­sumer goods) com­pa­nies — to be roped in as well.

Tamil Nadu Plas­tics Man­u­fac­tur­ers As­so­ci­a­tion spokesper­son B. Swami­nathan says there is a need to rope in pro­duc­ers and users of multi-lay­ered plas­tics at the very be­gin­ning. “Ex­tended Pro­ducer Re­spon­si­bil­ity needs to be im­ple­mented. Th­ese FMCG com­pa­nies should be made to in­vest in the tech­nol­ogy that is avail­able for reusing or re­cy­cling of such bags. As plas­tic man­u­fac­tur­ers, we are will­ing to set up pro­cess­ing plants for re­cy­cling the or­di­nary kind of bags, which can be pro­cessed. We can­not bring in a col­lec­tion sys­tem; we need the gov­ern­ment’s help for that. How­ever, what is re­quired is a sci­en­tific so­lu­tion to mul­ti­lay­ered plas­tics. They can­not be burnt in the lon­grun. Tech­nol­ogy for this is avail­able in In­dia it­self,” he adds. [Ac­cord­ing to the Or­gan­i­sa­tion for Eco­nomic Co-op­er­a­tion and De­vel­op­ment, Ex­tended Pro­ducer Re­spon­si­bil­ity (EPR) is a pol­icy ap­proach un­der which pro­duc­ers are given a sig­nif­i­cant re­spon­si­bil­ity – fi­nan­cial and/or phys­i­cal – for the treat­ment or dis­posal of post-con­sumer prod­ucts.]

For­mer mem­ber sec­re­tary of the Tamil Nadu Pol­lu­tion Con­trol Board K. Karthikeyan says a plas­tic re­cy­cling park, like the one in Ja­pan, should be set up if the ban is to suc­ceed. “They are pro­duc­ing urea, pig iron, oil from plas­tics and also de­hy­dralysing plas­tics to pro­duce HCL and hy­dro­car­bon in 2,500 hectares at a cen­tralised plas­tic waste fa­cil­ity,” he says, adding that akin to ewaste, where EPR is be­ing im­ple­mented, al­beit on a smaller scale, the same should be done for fast­mov­ing con­sumer goods.

Liveli­hoods on the line

The same dis­trib­u­tor–whole­saler-re­tailer chain should be used to col­lect plas­tic wrap­pers. “House­hold-level seg­re­ga­tion must be in­sisted upon by lo­cal bod­ies so that waste goes to the cor­rect re­cy­cling cen­tre,” Mr. Karthikeyan adds.

G. Sankaran, pres­i­dent, Tamil Nadu Puducherry Plas­tic As­so­ci­a­tion, says a to­tal ban on plas­tics would mean the death of the in­dus­try, on which the liveli­hoods of five lakh peo­ple de­pend. “A to­tal of two lakh peo­ple are di­rectly em­ployed in the State’s plas­tics in­dus­try, and an­other three lakh, in­di­rectly. Most of th­ese units are small- and medi­um­scale en­ter­prises that are al­ready bur­dened with loans. If our goods are banned, carry bags from neigh­bour­ing States will flood the mar­ket. Also, al­ter­na­tives for food pack­ag­ing and carry bags must be well-thought-out be­fore the ban is im­ple­mented,” he says.

Ex­plain­ing why mul­ti­lay­ered plas­tics can­not be re­cy­cled, he says they are — as the term sug­gests — made of dif­fer­ent lay­ers of plas­tics, with print­ing tak­ing place on the top-most layer.

“Th­ese ma­te­ri­als melt at dif­fer­ent tem­per­a­tures, and can­not be sep­a­rated be­fore be­ing re­pro­cessed, which only makes them fit for land re­fills or in­cin­er­a­tion,” Mr. Sankaran ex­plains.

G. Sun­dar Ra­jan, of Poovu­la­gin Nan­bar­gal, an en­vi­ron­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tion, says the ban won’t work if im­posed on one kind of plas­tic alone. “It should be a com­pre­hen­sive ban, and no ex­cep­tion should be given to one sec­tor alone. The FMCG in­dus­try should come out with an al­ter­na­tive for multi-lay­ered plas­tics, as they have be­come a so­cial evil,” he says.

Mean­while, hote­liers and snacks out­lets are look­ing at al­ter­na­tives to plas­tic pack­ag­ing ma­te­ri­als. A 5% dis­count on the bill amount was an­nounced re­cently by restau­rants for cus­tomers who brought their own uten­sils. Many have switched to alu­minium foil, which is not cov­ered by the ban. In­stead of plas­tic carry bags, con­tain­ers made of sug­ar­cane bagasse or corn starch are be­ing used, an in­dus­try watcher says. “The corn starch­based bag, if placed on soil, turns into com­post within 180 days, leav­ing no residue be­hind. The bags have been tested by the CIPET (Cen­tral In­sti­tute of Plas­tics Engi­neer­ing & Tech­nol­ogy) lab and have also re­ceived ap­proval from the Cen­tral Pol­lu­tion Con­trol Board. The Tamil Nadu gov­ern­ment’s or­der ban­ning the use of plas­tics per­mits [the use of ] such bags. Af­ter the an­nounce­ment, a lot of com­pa­nies have evinced in­ter­est in al­ter­na­tives,” says Va­sund­hara Menon, dis­trib­u­tor for True­green Com­postable bags in Tamil Nadu and Ker­ala.

Sources in the En­vi­ron­ment De­part­ment say they are study­ing al­ter­na­tives to re­place plas­tics. “Pa­per or cloth bags can be used. Th­ese do not pol­lute, and help re­duce our car­bon foot­print. The steer­ing com­mit­tee on the plas­tic ban met re­cently, and they also dis­cussed how the plas­tic in­dus­try could be helped. The gov­ern­ment will en­sure that the in­dus­try is not af­fected, since lakhs of peo­ple would lose their jobs [oth­er­wise],” a de­part­ment of­fi­cial says.

Some mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties have is­sued no­tices to FMCG com­pa­nies, ask­ing them to take steps to re­duce the use of mul­ti­lay­ered plas­tics. “The ban on plas­tics is only the first step. We will in­clude other kinds of pol­lu­tants, in­clud­ing multi-layer [plas­tics] in phases,” the of­fi­cial adds.

A proper sys­tem of seg­re­ga­tion, col­lec­tion and re­cy­cling must be put in place Sul­tan Ahmed Is­mail Ecol­o­gist

In­dus­try’s re­sponse

Some FMCG lead­ers are al­ready con­tem­plat­ing so­lu­tions to the is­sue. C.K. Ran­ganathan, Chair­man and Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor of FMCG con­glom­er­ate Cav­inKare Pvt. Ltd., says, “We are work­ing [on this] closely with the gov­ern­ment through the Con­fed­er­a­tion of In­dian In­dus­try (CII).” Am­ru­tan­jan Health­care Ltd., which shifted from man­u­fac­tur­ing pri­mar­ily glass bot­tles to plas­tics just a few years ago, is work­ing with var­i­ous plas­tic man­u­fac­tur­ers to bring in re­cy­clable plas­tics. “We are push­ing for re­cy­clable plas­tics,” says the firm’s Chair­man and Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor, S. Sambhu Prasad.

How­ever, en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists say reg­u­la­tions must be put in place, in­stead of leav­ing th­ese groups to their own de­vices. In­stead of pin­ning hope on their com­mit­ment to so­ci­ety, rules should gov­ern which pack­ag­ing ma­te­ri­als can be used.

Widen­ing the scope: As­so­ci­a­tions of plas­tic man­u­fac­tur­ers across the State have urged the Tamil Nadu gov­ern­ment to take into ac­count the large vol­ume of goods that come in pre-packed, multi-lay­ered plas­tics.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.