Updated: Jul 10
It was only in October last year that this depressing headline appeared in my feed...
It seemed that the Government's ambitious plan to address plastic pollution had failed. But now - less than 9 months later - the Indian Government has a new multi-option Framework that uses market-forces appropriate to the country context.
India shelves plastic ban plan
Last year’s announcement that plans were shelved came a few weeks before the UN's inaugural regional collaboration, SEA of Solutions - an event focused on plastic solutions across academia, governments, agencies and business. At the business-focused day that we facilitated, news of a government unable to implement a key policy was the hot topic among attendees. In fact, regulation in the region (and the need for harmonisation, standards, and certainty) were of the utmost concern for the 300 corporates present.
In one particular discussion, the merits of EPR (Extended Producer Responsibility) schemes in the EU were spruiked for their amazing achievements (yes, Germany does have an outstanding bottle return scheme); while a passionately expressed counterview ran more along the lines of the US-styled 'let the markets sort it out'.
Others, closer to the region in question, highlighted the differences between the Asian experience and the baseline advantages of both EU and US models (developed infrastructure; decades of cultural education, and let’s not forget the world’s reliance on Asia to process developed countries’ plastic waste.)
'Learn from - and advance on – the experience of others' was the predominant take-out.
India launches EPR Framework – and breaks the mould
In late June 2020, the Indian Government released its new National Framework for Extended Producer Responsibility. Rather than ditching the aspiration of remedying plastic pollution (or looking for a cheap PR win), the Government appears to have looked at the best that other nations have to offer, and developed a framework fit for its own nation:
A combination of EU accountability, and traditional market forces.
In doing so, India has broken the mould with a model that recognises context AND provides businesses with options.
Top 5 Take-outs
Options. This model gives corporates choice about how they will manage their obligations. Plastic pollution reduction is the priority, rather than taxation.
Existing Infrastructure. The framework recognises (and embraces) existing waste management systems, and - rather than applying a cost burden - opens the challenge to corporates to find cost efficiencies.
Material Recovery & Second-life Markets. At the core of this framework is effective recovery of material for a 2nd-life: up-cycling, side-cycling and down-cycling clearly preferred over landfill.
Chain of Custody/Transparency. Naturally the Government is not giving complete freedom without accountability. While market forces are meant to drive activity, the Government has added the checks and balances: a traceable chain of custody for waste materials. Essentially, if you want to claim recovery, you need to have supply chain proof.
Revolutionary thinking. This is possibly the start of a new era - one where infrastructure needs and education are secondary to the solutions; and corporates have accountability for creating an efficient circular economy for their product packaging.
The list of potential winners from this approach is long: Community, public services, low-income workers, governments, and businesses. It is possible that infrastructure companies are less impressed, but this is a great landscape for innovation and regional adaptation to shift the global plastic pollution problem into an economic paradigm.