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UPSC Editorial Analysis

Revamping the Global Plastics Treaty

GS Paper 3 - Conservation of Biodiversity and Environment

Context 

According to the OECD Global Plastic Outlook, global production of plastic waste was 353 million tonnes in 2019, more than doubled since it was in 2000, and is set to triple by 2060.

Plastic can be found everywhere, from the highest mountain to the deepest ocean trench. It can be discovered inside human lungs and placentas. The National Green Tribunal has issued notices to the Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change, as well as the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), about rubbish dumping by visitors and commercial entities in environmentally vulnerable areas.

Instances of Plastic Pollution in the Himalayas

    • A recent report by the Social Development for Communities (SDC) Foundation Dehradun highlights the towns in Uttarakhand are drowning in plastic waste.
    • In Assam, at the Ramsar site of Deepor Beel, Greater adjutant storks have been feasting on the plastic waste in the landfill instead of fish from the wetland.
    • In Manipur, growing pollution in rivers, that include the Nambul, has been widely reported.
    • The Himalayan Clean up (2018-21) that was conducted by the Integrated Mountain Initiative with Zero Waste Himalayas) shows increasing plastic waste, especially non-recyclables, in the Indian Himalayan Region.
    • The Himalayan Clean up (2022) waste audit results showed that 92.7% of trash was plastic, with 72% of waste being non-recyclable plastic.

About Global Plastics Treaty

    • It is a significant attempt to establish a legally binding agreement aimed at reducing and eliminating plastic pollution.
    • Establishment of Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) was made in 2021 during the fifth UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya.
    • The IAWP(participant in the UNEA Plastic Treaty process) emphasizes the importance of supporting the formalization and integration of informal waste pickers into discussions on addressing plastics.
    • It advocates including waste pickers’ perspectives and solutions at every stage of policy and law implementation.

Challenges with Global Plastic Pollution

    • Accumulation of Microplastics – Microplastic accumulation occurs when big plastic fragments that are improperly disposed of degrade and fragment. Microplastic deposits and accumulations have been discovered in the Himalayan mountains, rivers, lakes, and streams. Microplastics can become trapped in glaciers for extended periods of time before being released into rivers during snowmelt.
    • Issue particular to the Himalayan Region – Unscientific plastic disposal pollutes land and water in the Indian Himalayan Region, reducing biodiversity and jeopardizing fresh water sources for downstream villages. The Indian Himalayan Region’s plastic trash dilemma is the result of rapid and unplanned urbanization, as well as shifting production and consumption habits.
    • Plastic waste versus management capacities – Environment Action, a Swiss-based group, defines Plastic Overshoot Day as the day when the amount of plastic waste generated exceeds the capacity of waste management systems to manage it in that year. India’s plastic overshoot day in 2023 will be January 6. India has one of the world’s highest mismanaged waste indexes (MWI), at 98.55% (behind Kenya, Nigeria, and Mozambique), indicating a disparity between trash management capability and plastic usage.
    • Inadequate Regulations – Inadequate regulations based on the needs of the Hills, Solid Waste Management Rules (SWM) 2016, Plastic Waste Management (PWM) Rules 2016, and Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) 2022 serve as India’s national regulatory framework for plastic waste management. The SWM recognises the specific demands of hill areas but does not consider them when developing a mandate for both local bodies and producers, importers, and brand owners (PIBOs), whereas the PWM and EPR do not even acknowledge the hills’ special needs.
    • Issue of Segregation at Source – The joint mandate of SWM/PWM/EPR demands waste segregation at the source. Plastic garbage must be separated from other waste, as well as from different types of plastics, before any strategy for disposing of plastic waste in a scientific and sustainable manner can be implemented. However, waste segregation only applies to paper, and landfills are filled with mixed rubbish. The leakage from mixed trash pollutes the soil and groundwater, while the fumes pollute the air.

Major Initiatives undertaken by Government

 

    • Plastic Waste Management Amendment Rules, 2022: It prohibits the manufacture, import, stocking, distribution, sale and use of several single-use plastic items as of July 1, 2022. It has also mandated Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) that incorporates circularity by making manufacturers of products responsible for collecting and processing their products upon the end of the products’ lifetime.
    • Project REPLAN: Project REPLAN which stands for REducing PLastic in Nature has been launched by Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) aims to reduce consumption of plastic bags by providing a more sustainable alternative.
    • Ban on single-use plastics: India has banned the production, use, and sale of single-use plastics such as bags, cups, plates, cutlery, and straws in many states.
    • National Dashboard on Elimination of Single Use Plastic and Plastic Waste Management: India launched a nationwide awareness campaign on Single Use Plastics on World Environment Day in June 2022. A mobile app for Single Use Plastics Grievance Redressal was also launched to empower citizens to check sale/usage/manufacturing of SUP in their area and tackle the plastic menace.

Way Forward

    • As a significant representative from the Global South, India favors a method that improves repair, reuse, refilling, and recycling without completely eliminating the usage of plastics.
    • India has emphasized the need of adapting to country-specific circumstances and capacities. India’s informal rubbish pickers, who are indispensable, remain at the center of the dispute.
    • We need to reconsider the construction of our EPR rules and ask questions about how to incorporate this informal worker group into the new legal framework.
    • As the final round of discussions for the Global Plastics Treaty approaches the INC-5, it is critical to include the opinions of informal workers and defend their lives. The treaty can uphold social justice and equality values while leaving no one or area behind.

SOURCE: The Hindu

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