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This post originally appear on Deccan Herald

In its 2019 publication on plastic waste management, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs has estimated that about 60% of India's plastic waste is recycled. Where did the rest go? The answer lies in clogged drains, every water body, and pristine forests. Wherever man has stepped, plastic has followed.

Chips, chocolates, clothes, even your new car – every consumable product is presented to customers in a neatly printed plastic package, most of which finds its way to a dump, storm drain, or is just thrown on the road. Be it microplastics that can enter your bloodstream or bottle caps that marine creatures often ingest, our way of life is being threatened by plastic waste.

Plastic waste management in India – the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)

On its part, the Indian government has already taken firm steps to use plastic responsibly by notifying the Plastic Waste Management Rules and guidelines thereunder on the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). EPR is a policy approach where select businesses, comprising of Producers, Importers, or Brand Owners (PIBOs), are held responsible for safe plastic waste management.

EPR targets have been provided for packaging made up of rigid plastic, flexible plastic (of single or multi-layer), and carry bags made of compostable materials. PIBOs will need to act quickly as they must ensure 100% EPR compliance in the next couple of years.

This presents a huge opportunity in India for P-commerce in India – circular economy opportunities in plastic waste, made necessary by necessary by the implementation of plastic waste management rules. Emerging business opportunities would be multi-sectoral in nature, spanning the entire plastic value chain – both upstream and downstream. 

Plastic waste opportunities exist for reducing process waste, re-designing packaging material, developing recycled material, 'reuse and refill', and end of life treatment for plastic packaging

With release of the EPR rules, PIBOs have to consider options for reducing process waste, redesigning plastic packaging to enhance recycled plastic content, and developing and mainstreaming alternative sustainable materials. This shift will require research and innovation, developing business models, creating value chains on the ground, developing infrastructure, building the capacity of stakeholders, securing financing, etc., each of which will present new opportunities.

Waste Collection and Sorting: Waste collection and sorting is a key step towards a circular economy. Sorting of the mixed waste needs infrastructure. Business opportunities exist for NGOs and private developers to set up Material Recovery Facilities (MRF) and for technology providers to deploy best-in-class waste sorting machines.

Reuse and refill: Brand owners, mandated for category I (rigid plastic), are required to adopt the reuse and refill of packaging. This would open opportunities for NGOs, private waste companies, stockists, and distributors to undertake campaigns to create awareness and change consumer behavior, collect rigid packaging, undertake local cleaning, and refill and sell products locally.

Recycling infrastructure and system creation: EPR also focuses on recycling via authorized recyclers. Opportunities would arise for private developers to convert plastic waste into various products like tiles, boards, and even boulders for housing, etc.

End of life treatment: End-of-life disposal refers to plastic waste use for the generation of energy, which includes co-processing or converting waste to oil. Currently, end-of-life applications are limited to a few players in India, and opportunities exist for plastic waste developer to develop \ infrastructure, systems, and processes.

Credit Market: EPR guidelines also permit the sale and purchase of excess credit certificates either, which can be carried forward or offset against previous year targets. The opportunity for cloud -or Al-based systems for calculating and allocating credits, tracking vendors or recyclers, maintaining online records for environmental returns, etc., will open up.

Predicting 5% of global plastic waste opportunities with P-commerce in India

As per estimates, the plastic waste management business was globally valued at USD 32.91 billion ( Rs.246825 Crores) in 2021, with projected compound and annual growth rate of 3.1% over the next decade. Realistic estimates place India as the third largest plastic waste generator globally (World Bank). Assuming the prevailing recycling rates, as mentioned above, the untapped annual plastic waste business in India would be 5% of global business i.e., USD 1.65 billion (approximately 12300 Cr). As such, P-commerce will attract investment, catalyze innovations, and create livelihood opportunities.

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Disclaimer: This piece was written by Nutan Zarapkar (Director, Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH), RTI International India) to share perspectives on a topic of interest. Expression of opinions within are those of the author or authors.