The use of recycled plastics in food packaging in India needs to be re-deliberated?

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To highlight the seriousness of the dual issue of safe and sustainable disposal methods of waste plastics and the adverse impacts on the health and safety of humans from the use of recycled plastics in India, since a majority of the recycling industry deploys very inferior quality recycling machines and standards for the recycling of plastic have not been specified in India, LawWiser, India’s first video-only knowledge-sharing platform for the legal community, has released a Consultation Paper on “The Dilemma of Recycling Plastics in India”.

The recommendations from the paper have been shared with the concerned Ministries and FSSAI for re-consideration of the Plastic Waste Management (Second Amendment) Rules, 2021, (Second Amendment) introduced on 17 September 2021.

There have been a series of legislations to address waste management in India. The Plastic Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2011, was introduced to set up a regulatory framework for manufacture, usage, and recycling of plastic bags to ensure efficient management of plastic waste. In March 2016, The Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate change (MoEFCC) to tackle the menace of plastics waste further notified, the Plastics Waste Management (PWM) Rules, 2016. The rules make source segregation of various types of waste mandatory and introduce Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) as an environment policy instrument, and assign physical, financial, and environmental responsibilities to producers, brand owners, and importers of plastics.

Experts from various fields participated in the Virtual Open Forum - Atin Biswas, Programme Director, Municipal Solid Waste, Centre for Science and Environment, Siddharth Ghanshyam Singh, Deputy Programme Director, Centre for Science and Environment; Sudipto Sircar, Advocate, Supreme Court, Delhi High Court; Ashish Agarwal, Secretary, Recycle India Foundation; Dr Vijay G. Habbu, Polymer Scientist and Adjunct Professor, Institute of Chemical Technology (ICT), Mumbai.

The Virtual Open Forum conducted by LawWiser focused on the impact and concerns raised by the introduction of the second amendment to the Plastics Waste Management Rules, 2016 . The PWM (Second Amendment) Rules, 2021 states that carry bags or products made of recycled plastic" can be used for storing, carrying, dispensing or packaging ready to eat or drink food stuff". This is subject to appropriate standards and regulation under the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 (34 of 2006), by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India.

The experts in the Open Forum deliberated that there is a need to first address the set of challenges and issues before it is implemented. In this paper, different aspects of the new notification are explored:

  • Understanding the issue of recycling plastics in India

  • Need for regulation of informal sector

  • The Second Amendment (2021) is not in harmony with the earlier provisions

  • The critical role of the bodies like FSSAI in the implementation of such amendment.

The experts have unanimously voiced the concern that “with lack of proper facilities and standards for recycling there is only growing concern how these rules will be effectively implemented. And, ideally this amendment should have incorporated specific recommendations from FSSAI.”

The concern of the experts is that:

  • It is alleged that in India the majority of the recycling industry deploys very inferior quality recycling machines which can potentially make plastic more toxic in nature. Moreover, standards for the recycling of plastic have not been specified in India, making it all the more difficult to understand the chemical conformity of recycled plastic.

  • Such permission for use in food and medicine packaging could pose a serious threat to human life and the environment. It is a huge concern that continuous recycling of plastic not only degrades the quality but also brings in life-threatening toxic impurities in them apart from issues of collection and sorting of such plastic.

Elsewhere, in countries like the US, manufacturers are responsible for ensuring that the recycled product is of suitable purity. The FDA in the US is aware of the contaminants from post-consumer plastic that may appear in the final product. Therefore, each proposal of using recycled plastic is evaluated before issuing a no-objection letter.

Also, in 2018, the European Commission was preparing to fast-track approval of 140 recycling processes for use in food and drink packaging. The proposal to approve the said recycling processes has also involved the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). However, the final approval of each process rests with the European Commission.

LawWiser is India’s first video-only knowledge-sharing platform for the legal community, connecting practising lawyers, GCs, policy-makers, and CXOs. LawWiser helps to navigate complex legal and regulatory changes and their overall impact on businesses/ industries and communities at large.


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