Producers of plastic packaging are required to take responsibility for the post-consumer plastic packaging waste under EPR
India being one of the largest generators of plastic waste in the world faces a significant challenge in managing its plastic waste, which has adverse impact on the environment and public health. The Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016 (PWMR), which applies to every waste generator including manufacturers, producers, importers and brand owners introduced the EPR (Extended Producers Responsibility) concept to address the problem of plastic waste in India. The objective of EPR is to promote sustainable practices in the production and management of plastic packaging waste.
EPR is an important concept in sustainable waste management, and it is particularly relevant in India, where the amount of waste generated is growing rapidly. PWMR 2016 casts EPR on Producer, Importer, and Brand Owner and shall be applicable to both pre-consumer and post-consumer plastic packaging waste.
EPR is defined under Sec 3(h) of PWMR 2016 as “the responsibility of a producer for the environmentally sound management of the product until the end of its life”. The PWMR Amendment Rules 2022 lays down guidelines providing framework for implementation of EPR.
Under EPR, producers of plastic packaging are required to take responsibility for the post-consumer plastic packaging waste that is generated after consumption of the products. This approach shifts the burden of responsibility from the local authorities to the producers and brand owners, which can help reduce the burden stress on municipal waste management systems. The producers and brand owners are required to establish a system for collecting back the post-consumer plastic waste generated by their products and ensure that targets for recycling of plastic packaging waste collected is met at the end of each financial year.
At the same time, EPR incentivizes producers to design products that are easily recyclable, to use more sustainable materials, encourages responsible disposal of plastic waste, and creates green jobs as well as economic opportunities for waste collectors and recyclers. It is a win-win situation for all stakeholders and it is imperative that producers and brand owners embrace this concept to promote sustainable practices in plastic packaging waste management.
Manufacturers vs Producers of plastic materials
Plastics Waste Management Rules (PWMR) defines ‘Manufacturer’ as a person or unit or agency engaged in production of plastic raw material to be used as raw material by the producer. A ‘Producer’ includes persons engaged in manufacture or import of carry bags or multi-layered packaging or plastic sheets or like, and includes industries or individuals using plastic sheets or like or covers made of plastic sheets or multi-layered packaging for packaging or wrapping the commodity.
EPR applies also to ‘brand owners’
The liability extends to ‘brand owners’ in addition to the manufacturers and producers of plastic packaging materials. Sec 3(b) of PWMR 2016 defines ‘brand owner’ as a person or company who sells any commodity under a registered brand label.
Compliance with the PWMR
Reading through the provisions of law, it is amply clear that the manufacturers, producers of plastic materials for packaging and brand owners packaging their products in a plastic container or using multi-layered plastic packaging and generating plastic waste will have to comply with the provisions under the PWMR. Primary responsibility for collection of used multi-layered plastic sachet or pouches or packaging is of Producers, Importers and Brand Owners who introduce the products in the market. They need to establish a system for collecting back the plastic waste generated due to their products.
Responsibilities have been made clear for each category as waste generator. Some of them being i). taking steps to minimize generation of plastic waste; ii). registration with the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) or State Pollution Control Board (SPCB) or the Pollution Control Committee (PCC), as the case may be; iii). modalities for waste collection system based on EPR; iv). phasing out of non-recyclable multi-layered plastic; v). maintaining records of details of the person engaged in supply of plastic packaging; vi). Marking and labelling; vii). Meeting targets under EPR and uploading information in desired format on the centralized portal, etc.
An enticing provision under the said Rules relates to generation of surplus EPR certificates, carry forward/offsetting against previous year EPR targets & obligations, and sale/purchase of surplus EPR certificates. This means Producers, Importers & Brand-Owners can meet their EPR obligations under a category by purchasing surplus EPR certificates from other Producers, Importers & Brand-Owners of the same category.
However, such transactions-along with invoices-shall be recorded and submitted by the Producers, Importers & Brand-Owners on the online portal monthly as well as while filing annual returns under the EPR framework. I came across a Delhi based Founder of a company, who has been closely working with the government in this area for many years. His team has developed an impressive system for providing services to Producers, Importers & Brand-Owners, who can outsource the work to his company and be rest assured to be in compliance with the obligations under PWMR.
Non-compliance to the EPR targets will invite environmental compensation levied by CPCB based upon polluter pays principle for the purpose of protecting and improving the quality of the environment. It is important to bear in mind that payment of environmental compensation shall not absolve the Producers, Importers & Brand-Owners of the obligations set out under the Rules.
India is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, and with this growth comes an increase in waste generation. With limited landfill space and inadequate waste management infrastructure, it is essential that India adopts sustainable waste management frameworks like EPR. It is clear that the intent of the legislature has been to give thrust on plastic waste minimization, recycling, involving waste pickers, recyclers and waste processors in collection of plastic wastes from the source of its generation or intermediate material recovery facility and, most importantly, to adopt polluter’s pay principle for the sustainability of the waste management system. EPR is likely to play an increasingly important role in India's efforts to manage its waste sustainably.
(Disclaimer: Views expressed are of the author. For comments/clarification, please write to the author at firstname.lastname@example.org).
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