Extended Producer Responsibility for plastic waste is now well established in India. With the legislation of the new EPR Rules, it’s place is well cemented for the mid to long term future. While EPR brings a lot of optimism to the Indian plastic waste ecosystem, there are also a few challenges that we must brace ourselves from.
It is well established in the Indian EPR space that the brands bottom-fish for the lowest price for compliance. One of the reasons is that the regulation calls for an open market approach for executing the EPR. The regulation does not recognize PRO’s. Brands and recyclers are the only two sets of parties held accountable by the law.
Secondly, the monitoring of compliance is rather weak. Out of the list of 300+ brands released by the Central Pollution Control Board in mid 2021, it is quite likely that the brands complying with EPR is less than 50%. Although the CPCB calls for thorough documentation, there is still no definition of minimum standards or adherence to the same.
There is a hope that with the new EPR guidelines, the industry will move towards a better compliance with minimum standards, and hence better pricing for EPR.
There is a lot of enthusiasm with the brands to support infrastructure for segregation, collection, and recycling. However, with most other waste management initiatives in India, it is difficult to guarantee long term financial viability of such infrastructure, however lean they might be set up. This unfortunately creates a bad impression for the entire ecosystem.
It is well accepted globally that EPR is an effective instrument to fund creation and operations of waste management infrastructure. It is imperative that the funds are channelized in an effective and accountable manner.
This would also lead to unlocking of private and public capital in the enterprise for waste management, thus making it an attractive and viable industry in India.
The problem of plastic waste in India is huge. India is on the brim of exploding consumerism as the economy expands. We see unprecedented amounts of plastic waste being generated in the country, and the number only keeps growing.
Any problem that escalates this pace necessarily requires intervention of technology at each step in the value chain. From technology for manufacturing sustainable materials, to cost-effective technology for segregation, to technology for better traceability of materials to finally better technology for recycling is the need of the hour.
Agile technology start-ups must drive this change and brands must embrace this change. As we have seen in many traditional industries, technology alone has the power to transform, scale and create opportunities for the marginalized and underprivileged sections of the society. We will see the same in case of plastic waste management and EPR.