To ensure recycling of plastics that are not banned, Maharashtra government is set to implement a buyback scheme for PET bottles and milk pouches starting Wednesday.While 18 other states have banned plastics in one form or the other, Maharashtra is the first in India to implement a buyback depository system which is prevalent in 40 countries around the world.

In effect, a deposit paid to a retailer will be returned on handing bottles or pouches back to the store. As a next step, the state is also planning to institute a similar mechanism for tetra packs and retail packaging in three months. Mumbaikars will not only have to shun all low-grade, single-use plastics, but will be nudged to recycle other products because they carry a price tag.

This should come as a breather for a city whose drains are often clogged with plastic bags with waste from the same material leaching into its soil and water. Plastic constitutes 3-5% of all garbage generated in the state and PET bottles and pouches form the bulk, next to carry bags.

The state has placed the onus of the scheme on manufacturers citing the principle of ‘extended producer responsibility’ in a notification called the Maharashtra Plastic and Thermocol Products (Manufacture, Usage, Sale, Transport, Handling and Storage) Notification, 2018. The rule mandates manufacturers take responsibility for what they produce by setting up collection and recycling infrastructure.

While the scheme promises to rid Mumbai’s open areas and water channels of plastic, the devil is in the detail. Recyclers say the guidelines are not clear while experts say the high deposit rates, shortage of recycling capacity and lack of incentives could render the scheme a non-starter. “So far there is no mechanism for me to find out how many Bisleri or Aquafina bottles were crushed in my crushing machines. How do I seek compensation from manufacturers in the absence of that data? A bar code mechanism needs to be in place, which will take more than three days to do,” said Arvind Shah of Wild West Innovations, a leading plastic recycler.

Citing the Rs 2 refundable charge for PET bottles of less than 1 litre capacity, he said, “A 500 ml bottle costs 60 paise and the recycler has to refund Rs 2 to consumers. How will this work? People will start manufacturing empty PET bottles and dump them in these machines. That would give them a profit of Rs 1.40 per bottle. The scheme will only work if the recycler also generates profits.”

He said as plastics of different grades would get mixed up in collection machines, it would also yield low value at the recycling stage. “Forget different grades of bottles, even in a PET bottle, there are three types of plastics: the bottle, plastic wrapper and lid. If these three are not sorted, value of crushed material reduces,” said a recycler.

Experts also see shortage of recycling units. An expert said the country has units to recycle only 5-10% of plastics generated. While plastic production is rising 14% every year, recycling capacity is increasing only 20% annually, which still leaves a huge gap between production and recycling capacity.

Manufacturers say the scheme engenders confusion as they already recycle up to 80% of PET bottles. Ramesh Chauhan, chairman, Bisleri International, said the industry is discussing how it can find ways to ensure the present system is not upended. “Why disturb the existing set-up? It has been working efficiently for several years,” he said. Others said they will assist the government but are seeking clarity on issues. Dairy owners say government is yet to discuss the buyback plan with them and it will be difficult for them to set up collection and recycling mechanism at the retail level.

Source: July 9, 2018, The Times of India