Some in the industry argued that the government bans were not the way to go.
"Banning is not a solution but a government's knee-jerk reaction," said Amitabh Agrawal, executive director of PET preform and container maker Chemco Plastic Industries Pvt. Ltd. "Moreover, people have to change the mindset and not litter. There should be a responsible waste management system in place."
But Surendra Agarwal, director of Mumbai-based blow molder Creative Group of Industries, saw positives coming from the elevated discussion.
"A plastic ban may not be a solution but on a positive side it's good in a sense that it creates awareness about littering and of course builds a discourse... by bringing government and stakeholders [together] for putting structured collection and disposal systems in place," he said.
Figures from Maharashtra's Pollution Control Board said the state, which has 114 million people, generates more than 26,000 metric tons of solid waste a day, including 1,200 metric tons of plastic. The state capital Mumbai generates about 500 metric tons of plastic waste a day.
Some plastics executives said the government was shirking responsibility and questioned why India was going on an immediate "banning spree" against single-use bags when governments in Europe were phasing in their restrictions more gradually.
Jayesh Rambhia, a top official with the All India Plastics Manufacturers Association, noted that India does recycle a high percentage of some materials, mainly because of its system of poor residents, called rag pickers, who eke out a living sorting through refuse to collect recyclables and valuables.
But if a material lacks value, they don't collect it, he said.
"Almost 90 percent of PET bottles and 60 percent of plastic scrap is recycled but it's the multi-layered film packaging and single-use plastic bags [that are] littered and not collected by rag pickers due to low monetary returns [that have] flared-up the whole issue and given a bad name to the whole industry," he said.
He questioned why the Mumbai city government, which has collected fees for waste collection, "is not held accountable for failing to create a proper solid waste management system. While tax collected by state government and municipalities lay redundant, citizens continue to litter plastic waste and manufacturers are being held responsible for other faults."
Industry reports estimate that about 70 percent of India's waste collection is done in the informal sector, by individuals like rag pickers or very small companies, rather than formally registered companies or government agencies. Some speakers at the conference urged more funding and incentives for recycling.
Sachin Sharma, CEO of waste management startup GEM Enviro Management, said the entire supply chain in the recycling industry needs to be strengthened.
"Currently, the collection chain in the recycling industry is highly unorganized from rag pickers to scrap dealers up to recyclers, and efforts should be made to attractively incentivize the whole network to increase returns so that recyclers have enough financial capital to invest in technology," he said.
"Recyclers are paying for poorly segregated product due to an unorganized value chain," Sharma said. "It could be more structural and organized by introduction of some kind of EPR of waste management."
He said efforts are underway to digitally map India's recycling infrastructure.
"Mapping of rag pickers is a key to data collection in the informal sector," Sharma said, noting that most PET recycled in India comes through that informal sector but there's little credible data. "Therefore, digitalization... helps in policy making."
Akhilesh Bhargava, managing director of film and packaging maker AVI Global Plast Ltd., said in a panel discussion that companies should help with funding improvements in recycling.
"The industry should pool funds to incentivize the 1.5 million rag pickers to make an effective waste collection network," Bhargava said.
"Now government is pushing the industry to implement EPR as it won't handle the issue on its own," he said. "Currently, EPR adoption is more voluntary in nature."
Another speaker said India's local governments do not have enough plans in place for waste management.
"India has 4,041 local urban bodies and 90 percent have no solid waste management plan in place," said Suraj Nandakumar, co-founder of urban planning firm Recity Networks Pvt. Ltd. "Cities do have development plans but no solid waste management plans and that is where the challenge lies."
He said coordination can be a problem in massive cities like Mumbai, home to 12 million people, where every ward is often functionally a new city.
"Unless there is a plan that goes down to local area level with involvement of the stakeholders generating waste, there would be no long-term implementable solution," Nandakumar said.