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UN environment meet: 175 nations sign mandate to curb use of ‘plastic’

  • Category
    Environment
  • Published
    9th Mar, 2022

Context

One hundred and seventy-five countries, parties to the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA), on Wednesday signed a mandate which makes it legally binding for the signatories to address the full life of plastics — from production to disposal, to end plastic pollution.

Background

  • Two major proposals have emerged during years of international discussions about ways to reduce single use plastic.
  • The first, by Peru and Rwanda, calls for a full spectrum approach to plastic pollution, covering raw materials extraction, plastic production, as well as plastic use and disposal.
  • A second proposal, sponsored by Japan, calls for an international agreement to address marine plastic pollution covering the whole life cycle and promoting resource efficiency and circular economy, including reuse.
  • The key difference is that Japan’s approach concentrates on marine plastic pollution, while the Peru-Rwanda proposal covers plastic pollution in all environments.

Analysis

A Global Plastics Treaty adhering to the blueprint laid out in the mandate will join the Montreal Protocol and the Paris Climate Agreement as one of the most significant international environmental laws in world history.

Highlights of the Mandate:

  • According to the mandate, the treaty will tackle the whole life cycle of plastic not just post-consumer waste.
  • This is a critical shift in international policymakers’ approach to the crisis, which previously focused on plastic as a “marine litter” issue.
  • The mandate recommends measures to tackle plastic production, which as of now is slated to almost quadruple by 2050, and take up 10-13% of global carbon budget, endangering climate.
  • The mandate also recommends addressing the toxic burden of plastic, following hundreds of studies showing the impact of plastic in the environment and its presence in air, agricultural lands, and drinking water.
  • Toxic chemicals from plastic have been shown to enter the human body through a variety of routes, causing infertility, cancers, and metabolic dysfunction, among others.

Indian Stand on the Mandate:

  • The Indian text proposed voluntary action, which remained a separate document throughout the negotiations, with a majority of countries favoring binding commitments.
  • The term voluntary was retained as an option upon insistence by India.
  • New Delhi was also keen on the insertion of the words “national circumstances and capabilities” in the text which is in alignment with its position of common but differentiated responsibility under the Paris agreement.

How big is this plastic issue?

  • Plastic is a synthetic polymer made of gasoline with structures suitable for various uses, including packaging, construction, household and sports equipment, automobiles, electronics and agriculture.
  • More than 300 million tons of plastic are produced annually, half of which are used to design consumer goods, such as shopping bags, cups and straw.
  • Only 9% of plastic waste is recycled. About 12% burned, while 79% accumulated in landfills.
  • According to IUCN, at least eight million tons of plastic end up in the oceans every year.
  • 3 million tons of Indian plastic waste was recovered in 2018-19.
  • This translates to about 9,200 tons per day (TPD).
  • The total amount of municipal waste is 55-65 million tons; plastic waste is about 5-6 percent of the solid waste generated in the country.

Plastic Waste Management Amendment Regulations, 2021:

  • These laws prohibit certain types of plastic items that are used and have 'low use and high waste disposal capacity' by 2022.
  • The permissible size of plastic bags, currently 50 microns, will be increased to 75 microns from September 30, 2021, and to 120 microns from December 31, 2022.
  • High-strength plastic bags are easily treated as waste and have high recycling performance.
  • At the policy level, the concept of Extended Product Responsibility (EPR), already mentioned under the 2016 Regulations, should be promoted.
  • EPR is a policy in which producers are given significant, financial and / or physical responsibility for the treatment or disposal of post-consumer products.

Suggestive measures:

  • As consumers, we need to make sure that all the plastic waste that leaves our homes is separated and not contaminated with food waste.
  • Handling plastic waste requires practical knowledge, not only for those who manufacture plastic but also for those who use it.
  • The owner of the product and the manufacturer must try and understand the penalty for the plastic assembly that you will encounter after its packaging purpose has been used.
  • Citizens should bring about a change in behavior and contribute to non-pollution and help to separate waste and waste management.
  • Encouraging innovation in the use of alternative plastics identification methods and digital plastic waste management solutions.

Conclusion:

India has banned single-use plastic, which will come into effect on July 1. The Centre has also recently issued fresh guidelines for manufacturers, brand owners, importers of plastics making it mandatory to recycle and has drawn up a pathway to incorporate the large informal sector, which is involved in plastic recycling, in a more formal circular economy.

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