In India, waste collection and processing has traditionally been an occupation left to the bottom segment of the socio-economic strata. ‘Ragpickers’ – the local term for waste collectors, are individuals whose livelihood depends on picking over refuse in landfill sites or elsewhere to salvage goods and materials for recycling or reuse. They are mostly poor, illiterate, female, underage and come from socially marginalized communities, rendering them highly vulnerable. Their work of waste collection has been unorganized for years with absence of formal laws and guidelines leading to negative impacts on the wellbeing of these communities, the environment as well as the plastic waste management infrastructure in India.
It has been estimated that there are 1.5- 4 million waste pickers in India, who pick up, clean, sort and segregate recyclable waste and sell it further up the value chain. These manual workers sort and evaluate the products that they collect around the streets of towns and cities throughout India. This informal sector is well-structured and has a huge presence, especially in mega cities. It is responsible for the recycling of around 70% of plastic waste and up to 56% of all recyclable waste generated in the country. It recycles about 10 million tonnes of recyclable waste. Large populations of waste pickers are estimated to be involved in waste business in the major cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, and Chennai.In the absence of guidance system, management of such huge quantities of plastic waste by millions unskilled waste pickers can be highly unsafe and hazardous. This scenario needs a pragmatic intervention to ease their burden as well as channelize efforts towards a clean environment.
The government has taken few steps to streamline the existing burden. In an attempt to organize the processes, the Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has decentralized this system and made it the primary responsibility of producers, importers and brand owners (PIBOs) to collect used multi-layered plastic sheet, pouches and packaging material introduced by them into the market under “Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)” as part of Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016. The concept of EPR is based on the premise of making the PIBOs accountable albeit voluntarily.
Plastic credit model: An effective aid to EPR compliance
The plastic credit model is a recycling model that ensures effective compliance with the EPR mandate. This model is envisaged where a producer is not required to recycle their own packaging, but to ensure that an equivalent amount of packaging waste has been recovered and recycled to meet their obligation. However, producers are mandated to acquire evidence of recycling or recovery from properly accredited processors like recyclers, W2E plant operators, cement co-processors, users utilizing plastic in the road or exporters.
The producers can exchange credits from processors that have been specifically accredited for this purpose and through registration at the EPR portal. The credits are offered in the form of a plastic credit certificate based on the amount of plastic waste recycled, to acknowledge their contribution to waste management. An obligated producer, importer, or brand owner can acquire a plastic credit certificate for the desired quantity of recycled plastic waste directly from a network of verified sellers to offset their EPR obligations set under the PWMR. This certificate ensures that the plastic waste is ethically collected, transported, and recycled, while also ensuring that the monetary benefit is realized by the unprivileged recycling sector.
Increased transparency strengthened waste management infrastructure.
By installing a digital ecosystem that makes the process of buying or selling plastic credit certificate easy, the nation-wide implementation of the EPR can be achieved. A digitized model in place for brands on one side and recyclers/incinerators/collectors on the other, to get a quantity of plastic recycled for an agreed price eliminates interventions of middlemen and paves a way for a transparent process. The digital platform will enable a data processing environment where orders will be verified, matched, transactions will be performed, and data will be sent to registry for records. The end-to-end process will be visible to both the parties and reports will be viewed, thus ensuring transparency.
Plastic credit certificate model has the potential to accelerate recycling activities and formalize the sector, provided there is transparency in compliance, and the funding should result into sustainability. The ecosystem should be strengthened wherein the recycled plastics from the agreement should take place. Here is where government can support in enabling transparency. A digital platform is a good investment and a solution to ensure PIBOs does their EPR compliance and fulfils the regulatory norms on one side, provides an opportunity for the recyclers to convert plastic waste and supports the government in meeting EPR targets. Overall, it is a good platform that can streamline the ecosystem.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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