Mumbai: Maharashtra has postponed the rollout of the buyback scheme for plastic bottles and milk pouches from July 11 by a month. Described as the country’s first plastic buyback depository system, the delay in its implementation is because the plastic manufacturers are not ready and are yet to submit their proposals for the buyback to the government for approval, according to the state environment ministry. The buyback scheme is part of the plastic ban implemented by Maharashtra ten days ago.
Apart from banning certain plastic items, the government planned to roll out a buyback scheme for PET/PETE bottles of liquid capacity more 200 ml and milk pouches that are not part of the banned items list.
The buyback scheme essentially hoped to put a mechanism in place for collection of used plastic bottles and empty pouches from the consumers by the retailers and then the onus of scientifically recycling this collected plastic waste would be on the manufacturer. This would help in reducing the amount of plastic waste being discarded indiscriminately clogging up water bodies or piling up in landfills.
Good enough reason for some to appreciate Maharashtra’s proposed buyback scheme..Calling the buyback scheme a ‘great breakthrough,’ United Nations Environment Chief Erik Solheim had tweeted recently, “This is a great breakthrough in our efforts to Beat Plastic Pollution. The Indian state of Maharashtra is soon implementing a buyback scheme for PET bottles and milk pouches. Recycle the plastic we do use.”
United Nations Ambassador and actor Dia Mirza also welcomed the move and retweeted Mr Solheim’s message.
The plastic bottles were exempted from the latest list of plastic ban in the state, after the plastic manufacturing industry assured the authorities to scientifically treat the waste plastic bottles. To ensure that the manufacturing industry doesn’t slack away from its responsibility, the government had announced buyback system for PET/PETE bottles and milk pouches on April 11.
Maharashtra Plastic Ban: How Will The Proposed Plastic Buyback Scheme Work
For Consumers: Any consumer who purchases a plastic bottle or more or a milk pouch will have to pay deposit of Rs 1 if the bottle is of 1 litre and Rs 2 if it is less than 1 litre. For milk pouches 50 paise will be levied. However, this amount is refundable to consumer on return of the the empty plastic bottle and the milk pouch.
For Dairies And Plastic Bottle Manufactures: Under the extended producer and seller’s/trader’s responsibility, bottle manufacturers and dairy associations will have to print a predefined buyback price on the bottle and pouch along with the name of the retailer and the code. They will also have to set up collection centres, reverse vending machines to deposit used bottles in return for a reward for the user, crushing machines to collect and recycle such PET or PETE bottles or milk poly bags.
For Retailers: The retailers will have to arrange a place where they can collect and store the empty plastic bottles and pouches deposited by the consumers.
Anil Diggikar, Principal Secretary, Environment Ministry has said that packaged water producers and milk manufacturers will be sent notices asking them to chalk out a plan for implementation of the scheme. He also said that in case anyone fails to comply with the order, strict action will be taken which may include closure of such units. Once the proposals are submitted, state government’s expert committee will go through these and then approve.
While the state government hopes to cut down on plastic bottle waste with this buyback scheme, the stakeholders have raised several issues with it, especially the confusion that is likely to surround the collection channel.
Plastic Buyback Scheme in Maharashtra: The Hurdles
In India, almost 80-90 per cent of the PET bottles get recycled every day due to the existing mechanism which involves people from India’s largest informal sector, ragpickers.
For years, there has been an informal understanding between the ragpickers, kabadiwaalas and recyclers. This new buyback scheme will disrupt the existing set-up and may even hamper the livelihoods of waste pickers, P.C Joshi, Secretary General, PET Packaging Association for Clean Environment tells NDTV.
Mr Joshi said that the plastic bottle manufacturers should be allowed to use the existing set up and a semi-formal structure which is ‘Producer Responsibility Organisation (PRO) should be brought in. A PRO is a European concept whereby the producer’s responsibility of managing the waste is transferred to the PRO. A PRO’s aim is to bring in more efficiency, cost-effectiveness and awareness while managing the end-to-end operations associated with waste management.
“The PRO will meet the extended producer’s responsibility. Brands must hire the PROs and give them a mandate to collect the waste bottles. The PROs must integrate the ragpickers. This set-up was offered to the government and no decision has been taken on it yet. It requires a lot of backbone infrastructure and needs at least 6-7 months for it to come into effect,” he says.
While bottle manufacturers fear a disturbance in an already established recycling mechanism, dairy associations are unsure regarding the implementation,
Discussions are presently taking place among the dairy owners and no concrete decision has yet been taken. We haven’t reached any conclusion on how to handle the waste milk pouches because the pouches circulated across the state are huge. We will soon hold a conversation with the state government, says Rajesh Lele, Secretary, Indian Dairy Association (West Zone).
In Maharashtra, around one crore milk pouches are circulated every day. Nearly 50 lakh litres of milk and around 20 lakh litre of other fermented products like lassi, butter-milk gets consumed by the residents on a daily basis. As for the PET bottles 1.25 crore are generated daily.
Many retailers are confused about the coordination and transportation of the collected bottles and pouches,
No notification has been sent to us yet on how to handle the waste bottles. I have very little space in my shop to store the PET bottles. Once collected, who will transport it? and how frequently will the bottles be collected from us? Who are we suppoossed to coordinate with manufacturers or recyclers? says Ramnik Lal, who owns a grocery shop in Goregaon, Mumbai.
As for the consumers, there is no guideline mentioned in the notification regarding the disposal of plastic bottles and milk pouches. Raising a question about the issue of portability, Naman Shaw, an environmental activist from Pune says, “Does the notification allow me to purchase the product from one retailer but surrender the used bottle to another shop?”
In such a humongous state like Maharashtra, effectively implementing the buyback policy for products like PET bottles and milk which are circulated in heavy numbers, will be a challenge for the authorities. In addition to it, the lack of clarity on executing the policy is bound to confuse a number of people especially the retailers who serve as an important medium between consumers and manufacturers.