In India, an amendment to existing plastic waste regulations has caused an outcry in the nation’s plastic industry.
Citing covid-induced economic slump as a reason, industry representatives have sought for a possible delay to the implementation of proposed measures.
The law in question proposes a ban on plastic carry bags and commodities with a thickness of less than 120 microns in its first stage, the phasing out of flexible plastics such as earbuds, balloon sticks, candy sticks, ice cream sticks, plastic flags and polysterene in its second stage as well as the phasing out of single-use plastic items such as plates, cups, glasses, cutlery, trays, packaging films for sweets boxes as well as plastic PVC banners less than 100 microns thick in its third stage.
The proposed time of implementation for these measures are September 2021, January 2022 and July 2022 respectively.
Plastic producers are particularly disinclined to follow the draft legislation with regards to its proposed ban on plastic carrier bags and commodities of less than 120-micron thickness.
Prerak Patel, President of the Ahmedabad Plastic Manufacturers Association, said: “In order to manufacture plastic bags above 120-micron, our machinery needs to be upgraded, which will come at a cost. Manufacturers will have to invest in upgrading their manufacturing facilities. This will be an added cost, and making a fresh investment is not viable especially amid slowing demand since the pandemic”.
He maintains that many industries will be forced to downsize their respective operations or shut down completely, pending these legislative changes. Taken alone, the state of Gujarat, which is the fifth largest state in India, is predicted to face a shutdown of 5% of its 5,000 plastic manufacturing units, with many more companies expected to suspend their operations.
A manufacturer in Ahmedabad states that investment-highlighted as a possible solution to the existing waste infrastructure problem-won’t serve to prop up the new legislation.
“Existing equipment will need to be scrapped, which is a waste of prior investment. At a time when industries are facing a shortfall in revenue, absorbing additional infrastructure costs will not be possible. In fact, most units are small or medium enterprises and due to the drop in demand, they don’t even spend on routine upgrades unless necessary.”
The plastic industry has asked for a relaxation of the proposed norms with regards to the phasing out of thinner plastic bags.
Plastic bags less than 120 microns thick are recycled less often currently. This is because it’s not financially viable to recycle thin plastic bags, especially considering that they are more likely to be contaminated by food waste, which renders recyclability fraught. The proposal to increase bag thickness is based on the assumption that the new plastic bags will prove not only more long-lasting, prompting reuse, but will also be more frequently recycled at the end of their life cycle.
Producing thicker plastic bags, however, threaten to export costs to consumers, according to the Indian plastic industry.
“Our costs of production will almost double, raising the price of the end-product. This will also increase costs of packaging and other materials”, said Patel.
The plastic manufacturing sector argues that an overall plastic ban will also endanger the livelihoods of thousands working in the industry.
Industry proponents believe that a legal amendment should take current waste management legislation to task rather than introduced a blanket plastic ban.
“With implementation left to states, there is no uniformity in laws across different states. This puts manufacturers in a fix because there is no clarity on what to manufacture, and where to supply”, Pinkal Shah, a plastic manufacturer from the western Indian city Halol in Gujarat, summed up.