World Environment Day 2023: India's Pivotal Role In Combating Plastic Pollution

India can beat plastic pollution by investing in recycling infrastructure, raising awareness and promoting sustainable practices.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>Representational image. (Source: Unsplash)&nbsp;</p></div>
Representational image. (Source: Unsplash) 

Urgent action is needed to address the plastic pollution crisis, focusing on sustainable packaging, corporate responsibility, and international collaboration. By investing in recycling infrastructure, raising awareness, promoting sustainable practices, and forging global partnerships, India can beat plastic pollution and create a greener future.

World Environment Day 2023 highlights the urgent need to address plastic pollution. With the theme centered around solutions to plastic pollution and the campaign #BeatPlasticPollution, this global event serves as a timely reminder that individual actions profoundly impact the environment. India, a nation grappling with its own environmental challenges, must seize this opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to combating plastic pollution and showcase its strides to protect its ecosystems and ensure a sustainable future. 

India's Plastic Pollution Crisis And Government Action  

India has witnessed a rapid surge in plastic pollution in recent years, driven by the growth of its population and the corresponding increase in consumption. Rivers and oceans have become dumping grounds for plastic waste, severely impacting marine life and ecosystems. The consequences of this crisis are manifold, ranging from public health hazards to the loss of biodiversity and ecological imbalance.

Recognising the situation's urgency, the Indian government took bold measures to tackle plastic pollution head-on. India took a significant step towards addressing plastic pollution by implementing a ban on manufacturing, selling, and using certain single-use plastic items, including plastic carry bags, starting from July 1, 2022.

The Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016, define carry bags and encourage manufacturers to shift to thicker plastic bags. Initially, the government prescribed a 50-micron thickness for plastic bags, replacing the previous 40-micron requirement.

However, recognising the need for further improvement, the Plastic Waste Management Amendment Rules, 2021, stipulated a higher thickness of 75 microns from Jan. 1, 2023. This move aimed to make carry bags more valuable, increasing the likelihood of them being collected from streets and dumpsites. Garbage collectors, both formal and informal, play a crucial role in channelling plastic waste to recycling facilities.

However, increasing bag thickness from 40 to 120 microns might only partially resolve the issue. Additionally, the informal workforce may not find it worthwhile to collect plastic waste that is low in value but high in volume. Consequently, even with rigorous enforcement of the ban, plastic carry bags will likely continue littering our cities' nooks and corners.

While the ban on single-use plastics is a positive step towards addressing plastic pollution, it is evident that a multi-faceted approach is required. Alongside regulatory measures, there is a need for increased awareness, education, and the promotion of alternative sustainable packaging options. Collaboration between the government, businesses, and citizens is crucial in creating India's more sustainable and plastic-free future. 

Sustainable Packaging: A Way Forward

India has witnessed the emergence of various sustainable packaging initiatives across industries, highlighting a growing commitment to environmental conservation.

In India, companies are adopting sustainable packaging practices such as paper and cardboard alternatives, biodegradable materials, edible packaging, returnable/reusable systems, packaging size optimisation, upcycled/recycled options, and eco-friendly e-commerce packaging solutions. This shift reduces reliance on single-use plastics, promotes renewable resources, minimises waste and optimises material usage. Efforts are also being made to raise customer awareness and promote responsible disposal practices.

These sustainable packaging practices in India are driving a shift towards environmentally friendly alternatives, reducing the environmental impact of packaging waste. By adopting innovative solutions and promoting responsible consumption and disposal, companies contribute to a more sustainable and circular economy, fostering a greener future for India.

Driving Sustainable Packaging: Examples From India's Leading Companies

Coca-Cola Co., a global beverage giant, is taking significant strides towards sustainable packaging and addressing plastic pollution. In India, the company has joined forces with Zepto, a technology-driven quick commerce company, for the Return and Recycle initiative. This partnership underscores Coca-Cola's commitment to combating plastic pollution by promoting responsible waste management and increasing recycling rates.

Through the Return and Recycle initiative, Coca-Cola and Zepto aim to establish a closed-loop system in which packaging materials are collected, recycled, and reused. This approach helps reduce the environmental impact of Coca-Cola's products while minimising plastic waste in landfills or water bodies.

The initiative encourages consumers to return used Coca-Cola packaging to designated collection points, and Zepto employs innovative technologies to sort and process the returned materials efficiently. This collaboration supports a circular economy by reintroducing recycled materials into the manufacturing process.

Coca-Cola's partnership with Zepto and its sustainable packaging initiatives set a positive example for the beverage industry. By emphasising collaboration, technology-driven solutions, and consumer engagement, the company demonstrates its commitment to combating plastic pollution and advancing towards a more sustainable future. Inc., one of India's largest e-commerce platforms, is making significant efforts to promote sustainable packaging practices. Recognising the environmental impact of packaging waste, the company has implemented various initiatives to reduce its ecological footprint and foster a more sustainable approach to packaging and delivery.

First and foremost, Amazon India is actively working towards minimising excessive packaging materials. The company has implemented packaging algorithms and guidelines that optimise the size and quantity of packaging materials required for each product, reducing unnecessary waste. This approach ensures that packages are appropriately sized, minimising space and reducing the overall volume of packaging materials used.

In addition, Amazon India is promoting the use of eco-friendly packaging materials. The company encourages its sellers to use recyclable, biodegradable, or compostable packaging materials whenever possible. By offering guidance and resources, Amazon India facilitates the adoption of sustainable packaging practices among its vast seller network, contributing to the reduction of plastic waste.

It has introduced the 'Frustration-Free Packaging' programme, which focuses on reducing excessive packaging and making it easier for customers to open and recycle packages. This programme aims to eliminate unnecessary layers of packaging, such as excessive plastic wraps or tape, thereby reducing waste and making the unboxing experience more convenient for customers.

Inter IKEA Systems B.V., the renowned Swedish furniture and home goods retailer, has made significant strides in promoting sustainable packaging practices in India. Recognising the environmental impact of packaging waste, IKEA has implemented several initiatives to reduce its ecological footprint and foster a more sustainable approach to packaging.

IKEA India actively promotes using sustainable alternatives such as bio-based plastics, paper and cardboard. By replacing traditional packaging materials with these eco-friendly options, IKEA reduces its reliance on non-renewable resources and minimises waste generation.

Moreover, IKEA emphasises the importance of efficient packaging design. The company optimises packaging sizes to reduce material usage and transportation emissions. By ensuring that packaging is appropriately sized, IKEA maximises space utilisation, reduces space, and minimises the overall environmental impact of its products.

In addition, IKEA encourages customers to participate in its take-back and recycling programmes. Through these initiatives, customers can return used packaging materials to designated collection points, enabling them to be recycled or repurposed. By closing the loop in the product lifecycle, IKEA promotes a circular economy and reduces the amount of packaging waste that ends up in landfills.

The examples show that companies are embracing sustainable packaging practices, such as paper and cardboard alternatives, biodegradable materials, edible packaging, returnable/reusable systems, packaging size optimisation, upcycled/recycled options, and eco-friendly e-commerce packaging. These initiatives aim to reduce single-use plastics, promote renewable resources, extend product shelf life, and minimise waste.

By implementing returnable/reusable systems, optimising packaging sizes, and utilising upcycled/recycled materials, companies contribute to the circular economy and reduce environmental impact. The e-commerce sector also prioritises sustainable packaging using minimalistic designs and promoting recyclable solutions while raising customer awareness about responsible disposal. These efforts collectively foster a more sustainable and eco-conscious packaging landscape in India.

Conquering Plastic Pollution: India's Path To Sustainable Future 

It is essential to acknowledge that addressing the plastic pollution crisis requires comprehensive efforts on multiple fronts. Effective waste management systems, improved recycling infrastructure, and behaviour change at all levels of society necessitate collaboration between governments, businesses and civil society organisations.

Here are four ways in which we can achieve this goal:

Investment In Recycling Infrastructure

India's success in combating plastic pollution hinges on investing in robust recycling infrastructure. The government should work closely with the private sector to establish recycling facilities and promote adopting sustainable practices. By incentivising recycling initiatives, supporting small-scale recyclers and fostering innovation in waste management technologies, India can significantly reduce plastic waste in landfills and water bodies.

Public Awareness And Education

India needs a nationwide campaign like Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, encouraging citizens to reduce their plastic consumption, embrace eco-friendly alternatives and participate in recycling initiatives. Educational institutions, civil society organisations and media platforms can be vital in disseminating information and empowering individuals to make sustainable choices.

Corporate Responsibility

India's business community must actively combat plastic pollution. Companies should prioritise sustainable packaging alternatives, invest in research and development of eco-friendly materials, and promote responsible waste management practices throughout their supply chains. Encouraging industry collaboration, the government can incentivise corporations to adopt greener practices while holding them accountable for their environmental impact. 

International Collaboration

India's efforts to combat plastic pollution should not be confined within its borders. Collaborating with international partners, sharing best practices and learning from successful initiatives worldwide will strengthen India's resolve and amplify its impact. World Environment Day 2023 offers a platform for India to engage in global dialogue, forging partnerships that can drive meaningful change in tackling plastic pollution.

As the world celebrates World Environment Day 2023, India stands at a critical juncture in its fight against plastic pollution. This global event serves as a reminder that individuals' actions matter and that governments and businesses must be held accountable for their role in addressing this crisis.

By investing in recycling infrastructure, raising public awareness, promoting corporate responsibility, and fostering international collaboration, India can beat plastic pollution. It is time for India to step up, showcase its commitment to environmental sustainability, and pave the way for a cleaner and greener future for all.

Anjal Prakash is the associate professor (research) and research director at the Bharti Institute of Public Policy at the Indian School of Business. He contributes to IPCC reports.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of BQ Prime or its editorial team.