Concerns with new rule for Recycled Plastics

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    In News

    • The Plastic Waste Management (Second Amendment) Rules, 2021 was  notified in September, 2021.

    About 

    • In this amendment, the government took a U turn on its stand of banning use of recycled plastic or newspaper for food items packaging.
    • The second amendment came just a few weeks after the notification of the first amendment, which listed 20 single-use plastic items to be phased out.
      • It was notified under sub rule 4 of rule 5 of the Environment Protection Rules, 1986.

    Criticism of  the Plastic Waste Management (2nd amendment) Rules, 2021

    • Non-Conformity with previous progressive laws
      • Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016
        • According to its clause b, sub rule 1, rule 4, the following shall not be used for storing, carrying, dispensing or packaging ready to eat or drink foodstuff. 
          • carry bags made of recycled plastic or 
          • products made of recycled plastic 
        • In short, it prohibited the use of recycled plastic for food contact applications
    • Against Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) regulations
      • In 2018, the FSSAI banned the use of recycled plastic or newspaper for packaging of food items from July 1, 2019.
      • Ideally, FSSAI is the apex body for food safety and hence MoEFCC must have followed the lead of FSSAI.
    • Not a part of Draft rule, so no public discussion
      • 2 major rules have been added to the Plastic Waste Management Rules without them being part of the Draft rules 2021.
        • First addition assured companies that more single-use plastic products will be added to the phase-out list only after a decade from the notification of the first amendment of 2021.
          • It indirectly provided a moratorium of 10 years to big companies to keep polluting.
        • Second is to allow the use of recycled plastics for food products packaging.
      • Not included in the draft means no public consultation happened around these two issues. 
      • It is opposite to the core essence of democracy.

    Recycled Plastics

    • Plastic recycling is the reprocessing of plastic waste into new and useful products. 
    • India recycles 60 per cent of its plastic waste, according to the claims of the Union Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs.

    Fig: Plastic Recycling Process (Courtesy: CEFLEX)

    • Benefits of recycling Plastics 
      • Reduced dependence on landfill
      • Conserves resources
      • Protects the environment from plastic pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
      • Helps in reducing the non biodegradable plastic which otherwise will end up for years in the environment, on land and ocean garbage patches.
    • Challenges of recycling Plastic
      • Informal Workforce and Value Chain: 
        • The majority of value chain for plastic recycling includes kabadiwalas, waste pickers, itinerant buyers and small-scale recyclers.
      • Unscientific methods: 
        • The use of crude/ unscientific methods to produce plastic pellets raise concerns around the contamination and purity of the recycled plastic.
      • Unknown Source of Recycled Plastic: 
        • Plastic is used in a variety of sectors ranging from medicines, electronic equipment to chemical fertilizers.
        • The recycled plastic may have traces and hence should not be used in food contact applications. 
      • Lack of Proper Standards and monitoring mechanisms
        • In a blended product, made by mixing virgin and recycled polymer, it is practically impossible to tell the amount of recycled plastic that has been added to the final product.

    Recycled plastics v/s Recycled Glass or Metals for food application

    Recycled Metals/ Glass

    Recycled Plastics

    • Materials like glass, aluminium and steel are recycled endlessly with efficiency of 75 percent.
    • The share of recycled materials in the new containers is sometimes as high as 70 percent.
    • They have been safely used for food contact applications with almost zero contamination risk.
    • They rarely degrade with normal use and are easy to work with, especially around contamination issues. 
    • There are over 4,000 legacy chemicals that are inherently present in post-consumer plastic.
    • These are primarily a result of the plastic additives for desirable properties.
    • The replacement of used plastic in virgin plastics distorts fibres.
    • Risk of contamination with carcinogenic and other toxic chemicals is very high.
    • Further, the informal workforce and unscientific methods for recycling increase the hazard risk.

     

    Global Practices

    • United States of America (USA)
      • In the USA, manufacturers are responsible for ensuring that the recycled product is of suitable purity as codified in their law.
      • The Food and Drug Administration in the US is aware of contaminants from post-consumer plastic that may appear in the final product. 
        • Therefore, each proposal of using recycled plastic is evaluated before issuing a no-objection letter
      • A proposal has to be supplemented with information that is relevant to make the decision which includes: 
        • The complete recycling process
        • Description of the source of the post-consumer plastic 
        • Description of steps taken to avoid contamination
        • Tests to show that all potential contaminants have been removed during the recycling process
        • Description of the future use of the plastic
    • The European Union 
      • It has come up with a ‘plastic strategy’ in 2018. 
        • The objective of the strategy is to transform the way plastic products are designed, produced, used and recycled in the EU. 
      • According to regulation 282/2008, only food-contact materials and articles that contain recycled plastics obtained from an authorised recycling process may be marketed in the EU.
    • Asia
      • Most countries in Asia lack a specific regulation to explicitly allow or prohibit the use of recycled plastics in food applications. 
      • Recent updates by Korea, China and Thailand indicate that the region may soon see food packaging applications using recycled materials. 

    Recommendations for India

    • Transparency in information regarding the intent and objective of the law
      • The laws/ rules should not be passed without deliberate discussion with the public and experts.
    • Before the FSSAI takes a call to include recycled plastic for food contact applications, we have to ensure the following things:
      • Recycling only through authorised recycling facilities.
        • The country’s data around the number and capacity of plastic recycling plants is very weak. 
        • We need a yardstick to understand our capacity to recycle correctly and utilise the material for other applications, thus closing the loop.
      • Only non-food applications of Recycled Plastic initially 
        • It will help to understand the issues faced by the industries in terms of production and social acceptability.
      • Inventory of the types of processes 
        • It will help to identify the plastic recycling processes that are safe enough to produce recycled plastic for food contact applications.
      • Proper Guidelines on lines of USA regulations
        • This should include 
          • the source of the post-consumer plastic waste, 
          • type of polymer that can be used, 
          • the nature of the food material that they can be used for packaging, 
          • the average time for which the plastic will be in contact with the food and finally, 
          • the temperature that the packaging material may be subjected to while still in contact with the food material.
      • A working mechanism needs to be developed 
        • It must include all the stakeholders, which include but are not limited to 
          • MoEFCC, 
          • FSSAI, 
          • the Central Pollution Control Board, all the State Pollution Control Boards and the Pollution Control Committees, 
          • the Urban Local Bodies, 
          • representatives of the plastic industry, including the plastic recycling industry as well as 
          • consumers. 
    • This will enable us to come up with a rational solution for the use of recycled plastic.

    Source: DTE