India’s Mounting Plastic Challenge


Many have woken up to India’s plastic waste generation problem after worrying data was presented in Parliament. But alarm bells have been ringing for a long time. According to the Centre, plastic waste generation has more than doubled in the last five years, with an average annual increase of 21.8%. A 2018-2019 Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) report puts India’s annual plastic waste generation at 3.3 million metric tonnes. This, according to experts, is an underestimation. Seven states — Maharashtra, Delhi, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, West Bengal, and Tamil Nadu — contribute to 66% of the country’s total plastic generation. And, Goa and Delhi’s per capita plastic use is six times higher than the national average. A 2018 study by IIT Kharagpur found that 49% of waste in Delhi drains was plastic.

    There is need for robust national plan, ensure transparency and to involve every stakeholder- from Government and industries to every last citizen.

   Centre Notifies guidelines on plastic packages

   Centre Notifies guidelines on plastic packages

New Delhi [India], February 18 (ANI): Taking forward the commitment to eliminate single-use plastics, the Environment Ministry has notified comprehensive guidelines on Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) for plastic packaging under Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016.

According to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, the guidelines on extended producer responsibility coupled with the prohibition of identified single-use plastic items, which have low utility and high littering potential, with effect from July 1, 2022, are important steps for reducing pollution caused by littered plastic waste in the country.

The minister said that the guidelines provide a framework to strengthen the circular economy of plastic packaging waste, promote the development of new alternatives to plastics and provide further next steps for moving towards sustainable plastic packaging by businesses. “Reuse of rigid plastic packaging material has been mandated in the guidelines to reduce the use of fresh plastic material for packaging,” Yadav said.

The Ministry said that the enforceable prescription of a minimum level of recycling of plastic packaging waste collected under EPR along with the use of recycled plastic content will further reduce plastic consumption and support the recycling of plastic packaging waste.

The EPR guidelines will give a boost for formalization and further development of the plastic waste management sector. As a significant first, the guidelines allow for the sale and purchase of surplus extended producer responsibility certificates, thus setting up a market mechanism for plastic waste management.

“The implementation of EPR will be done through a customized online platform which will act as the digital backbone of the system. The online platform will allow tracking and monitoring of EPR obligations and reduce the compliance burden for companies through online registration and filing of annual returns. In order to ensure monitoring on fulfilment of EPR obligations, the guidelines have prescribed a system of verification and audit of enterprises,” it said.

The guidelines prescribe a framework for the levy of environmental compensation based upon the polluter pays principle, with respect to non-fulfilment of extended producer responsibility targets by producers, importers and brand owners, for the purpose of protecting and improving the quality of the environment and preventing, controlling and abating environment pollution, the Ministry added.

It further said that the funds collected shall be utilized for collection, recycling and end of life disposal of uncollected plastic waste in an environmentally sound manner.

Under these producers, importers and brand owners may operate schemes such as deposit-refund system or buy-back or any other model in order to prevent the mixing of plastic packaging waste with solid waste. (ANI)

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Covid pandemic to infected plastic pandemic


Now, while we are fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, plastics use is increasing again. But, while the pandemic is just temporary, plastic pollution will be long lasting.  

For our current battle to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, we see a dramatically increasing demand for personal protective equipment (PPE) which comprises various plastic and rubber items. Moreover, there are many other fresh, clean plastic items widely used in medical applications for creating a sterile environment, such as pill casings, disposal syringes, catheter, and blood bags. These items are also made of synthetic polymers such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and PP, which are not biodegradable. Therefore, it would be not surprising to see that the COVID-19 pandemic is generating tons of medical waste.

dumping Covid-19 infected waste in public places

               The Biomedical Waste Management Rules, 2016, define biomedical waste as“any waste that is generated during the diagnosis, treatment or immunisation of human beings or animals or research activities pertaining thereto or in the production or testing of biological or in health camps.” Therefore, broadly, any waste generated from treating patients comes under the ambit of biomedical waste.

As per available data, India produced approximately 600 tonnes of biomedical waste per day before the coronavirus first hit.

However, ever since Covid-19 showed up on our shores, the amount of biomedical waste produced in India has increased exponentially. This is mainly due to two factors:

  • Medical facilities themselves are producing far more biomedical waste as they battle the virus. As of August 30th, more than 4.14 crore tests to check for the virus had been conducted in India. Further, with over 36 lakh persons having tested positive for the virus, medical facilities have also been producing a lot more medical waste as they treat these patients. Therefore, all of the cotton swabs, samples, injections among other medical inputs necessary to test and treat these patients become highly contagious bio-medical waste that needs to be treated and disposed of with utmost caution.
  • Due to the infectious nature of the coronavirus itself and the strategy of home quarantining of asymptomatic COVID-19 Positive patients, adopted by the country, a major part of affected household waste has now become biomedical waste. The amount of waste that is hazardous is large due to the fact that India has some of the worst waste segregation numbers in the world. This forces infrastructure that is already burdened beyond capacity to handle mixed waste that it is not equipped to handle.


Treatment facilities and growth in biomedical waste

A factor that infinitely complicates India’s fight against Covid-19 is that as per available data, India, a country of more than 1.3 billion people, has only 198 Biomedical Waste Treatment Centres (BMWTCs) and 225 medical centres in the country with captive waste treatment facilities. Simple maths tells us that India’s infrastructure to process biomedical waste was already inadequate during pre-Covid times. However, post-Covid, India is truly staring at a disaster of alarming proportions if it does not rapidly increase its biomedical waste treatment capacity.

There have already been multiple instances of Covid-19 infected waste being dumped in public places including in Delhi and Vijayawada. In addition to this, due to the rapid and sustained increase in biomedical waste due to Covid-19, most BMWTCs are running out of capacity to handle the waste. For instance, the two BMWTCs in Delhi have a combined capacity of handling 74 tonnes of biomedical waste in a day.

However, a report submitted by the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority to the Supreme Court of India showed that Delhi’s biomedical output had risen from 25 tonnes per day in May to 349 tonnes per day in July. Similarly, Covid-19 related waste in Mumbai rose from 12,200 kg per day in June to 24,889 kg per day in August, essentially doubling in three months. A similar situation has arisen in West Bengal as disposal facilities there too have reached maximum capacity.

Proper waste segregation and disposal is need of the hour. Disease burden may keep on rising, if proper steps are not followed.

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Microplastic have found way into the human gut


In the next 60 seconds, people around the world will purchase 1 million plastic bottles and 2 million plastic bags. By the end of the year, we will produce enough bubble wrap to encircle the equator 10 times. Though it will take over 1,000 years for most of these items to degrade, many will soon break apart into tiny shards known as microplastics, trillions of which have been showing up in the oceans, fish, tap water and even table salt.

Now, we can add one more microplastic to the list: the human gut.

In a pilot study with a small sample size, researchers looked for microplastics in stool samples of eight people from Finland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, the UK and Austria. To their surprise, every single sample tested positive for the presence of a variety of microplastics.

“This is the first such study, so we did a pilot to see if there are any microplastics detectable at all,” said Philipp Schwabl, a gastroenterologist at the Medical University of Vienna and lead author of the study. “The results were astonishing.” There are no certain health implications for their findings, and they hope to complete a broader study with the methods they have developed.

Microplastics — defined as pieces less than .02 inches long, roughly the size of a grain of rice — have become a major concern for environ- mental researchers during the past decade. Several studies have found high levels of microplastics in marine life, and last year, they were detected in 83% of tap water samples around the world (the highest contamination rate was in US, where 94% of samples were contaminated).

Researchers have long suspected microplastics would eventually be found in human gut. One study estimated that people who regularly eat shellfish may be consuming 11,000 plastic pieces per year.

The new paper, which was presented  at a conference in Vienna, could provide support for marine biologists who have long warned of the dangers posed by microplastics in our oceans. But the paper suggests that microplastics are entering our bodies through other means, as well.

To conduct the study, they selected volunteers from each country who kept food diaries for a week and provided stool samples.

Up to nine different kinds of plastics were detected, ranging in size from .002 to .02 inches. The most common plastics detected were polypropylene and polyethylene terephthalate — both major components of plastic bottles and caps.

Still, Schwabl cautioned against jumping to conclusions. “It is highly likely food is being contaminated with plastics during various steps of processing or packaging.” Whether microplastics pose a health risk to humans is unknown, though they have been found to cause some damage in fish and other animals. Additionally, the ones detected in the study are too large to be a serious threat.

source

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