Several prominent Indian government officials came to the country's largest plastics show, PlastIndia, with some words of warning on the environment: The plastics industry must do more to tackle the problems of waste and recycling.
India's president, Pratibha Devisingh Patil, kicked off the event Feb. 4 with a high-profile speech telling the industry that while plastics have many benefits to society, the anticipated doubling of polymer use in India in the next few years will bring more action on environmental problems.
Effective waste management of plastics, by adopting proper recycling technology, is the need of the hour to deal with the menace of plastics waste, Patil said in prepared comments distributed at the show. We need to adopt a responsible approach in the use of plastics.
Plastic articles strewn all across the country in its hills and rivers and streets have caused general public ire and environmental harm, she said, adding that both government and industry need to do more.
Patil's comments were echoed by a senior official in India's Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers, who told a Feb. 7 forum on plastics recycling that the negative attention on waste runs the risk of overshadowing the positive contributions of plastics.
Neelkamal Darbari, joint secretary of the department of chemicals and petrochemicals, said in an interview after her speech that the industry needs to work harder to reduce plastic bag waste and boost recycling, or local governments will keep pursing what she considers bad policies, such as bag bans that go far beyond what is needed.
I think [firms] need to do a little bit more. The issue here is, the anti-lobby has a stronger voice than the pro-lobby, she said.
India's plastic bag-making industry is fragmented, with numerous but small businesses, she added.
To get them to come up with one strong voice is taking time. It is happening, but it is taking a little time, she said. The leadership is emerging now.
Darbari said plastic attracts attention because bag waste is one of the most visible signs of litter. So far, other plastics and packaging have not received the attention bags have. She said Indian governments have also not done enough on waste issues.
Somewhere down the line the recycling part of it has not received the attention it should in terms of public policy, she told delegates attending the Feb. 7 Asian Plastics Recycling and Waste Management Conference. To a great extent the government is waking up to the problem.
Several local governments in Indian have banned bags, and city officials in New Delhi, India's capital, have pushed one as well.
There appears to be a lot of public pressure against the bags' use. Many street signs in New Delhi, for example, include messages from the government urging people to say no to plastic bags.
One prominent Indian plastics official said industry should step up its actions.
Arvind Mehta, president of the PlastIndia Foundation, the umbrella business group that organizes the show, said in a Feb. 6 interview in his office that industry needs to form an organization to get more involved in public policy. An alternative, he said, would be to ask the Indian Centre for Plastics in the Environment to take on that role. To date, the center has been largely a technical group.
Any government problem cannot be solved without fighting the government, he said.
The issue of plastic waste is a regional one, and one forum attendee from Sri Lanka said industry in that island nation in the Indian Ocean developed a plastic waste collection system, after the government said in 2002 that it wanted to ban or restrict plastic because of environmental concerns.
The industry in that country of 20 million people eventually agreed to assess a tax on all plastic sold in the country, and that money is used to fund a joint industry-government organization that started collecting recyclables from homes, said Merrilene Peramune of Sri Lanka's National Post-Consumer Plastic Waste Management Project.
The program buys trucks for cities, develops educational materials, gives away sacks and has been growing over the past four years in the country's more populated areas, she said.