India's national environment ministry has issued new rules banning plastic bags under 40 microns thick and suggesting the country implement broader collection of plastic waste, including an extended producer responsibility system that could put more requirements on plastics manufacturers to deal with packaging waste.
The rules, released Feb. 7, must still be implemented by state-level environmental departments and municipal governments, and enforcement rests largely with local governments, so it's unclear what form they might finally take at the local level.
But they do represent a potentially major change to the country's plastics waste management policies, which were last rewritten in 2003.
In announcing the rules, Minister for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh rejected bans on plastics and said it is important to improve municipal waste-collection systems.
It is impractical and undesirable to impose a blanket ban on the use of all plastic all over the country, said Ramesh. The real challenge is to improve municipal solid-waste management systems. In addition to the privatization and mechanization of the systems, we must be sensitive to the needs and concerns of the [hundreds of thousands] of people involved in the informal sector.
The rules could help improve plastics recycling and reduce litter if they result in more materials being collected, said one Indian plastics industry source who requested anonymity but who has closely followed environmental issues and served on industry environmental groups.
If all the players involved play their role municipalities, [non-governmental organizations], trade and industry and consumers and households we should see a better solid-waste management with a well thought-out social communication effort in India, the source said.
The source noted, however, that provisions of a 2000 law requiring that waste be segregated at the source have still not been implemented in many cities and town.
Regarding plastic bags, these latest rules specify that carry bags have to be at least 40 microns thick. The ministry said previous rules set the minimum thickness at 20 microns, but several local governments had stipulated different rules.
The ministry said it expects 40 microns to become the new national standard.
Other sections of the new rules explicitly recognize, for the first time, the role of India's legions of waste pickers, who sort through garbage for valuables. The rules require local governments to constructively engage with groups representing waste pickers.
The rules would also:
* Ban the use of recycled or compostable plastics for food packaging.
* Ban plastic for storing, packing or selling tobacco and similar substances.
* Require municipal governments to ensure safe waste handling and set up collection centers. Plastics manufacturers may be directed to set up such centers in line with the principle of extended producer responsibility.