Making firms clean up their trash

Thoothukudi Corporation invokes extended producer responsibility to send back plastic wrappers

Updated - December 29, 2018 08:05 am IST

Published - December 29, 2018 12:38 am IST - Thoothukudi

While the Tamil Nadu government has announced a ban on several types of single-use plastics from January, the issue of FMCG companies packing edible items in multi-layered plastic wrappers doesn’t seem to have been addressed yet.

The concept of ‘extended producer responsibility (EPR)’, which is gaining traction globally, is unfortunately sparingly invoked in the country even though it is mandated under the Plastic Waste Management Rules of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change. According to the norms specified, producers, importers and brand owners who introduce various products into the market have to work out modalities for a waste collection system — which makes them responsible for the waste generated even after products leave the factory gate.

In July, when schoolchildren sent around 20,000 plastic wrappers of edible items back to companies producing them as part of an initiative by the Thoothukudi Corporation, it made national headlines. The wrappers were sorted and sent to five companies.

Corporation Commissioner Alby John Varghese, in his letter to the companies, invoked EPR, and asked them to set up a mechanism to collect the waste and identify alternatives for packaging. “EPR is ideally the best mechanism to tackle plastic packaging problems,” he said.

Out of five companies the wrappers were sent to, one sent a representative to discuss possible measures to address the issue, while another sent an acknowledgement letter and postage charges, but remained non-committal about changing its packaging.

While it is a small effort to address a macro issue, the Corporation has been persistent.

Recently, another batch of 1.64 lakh plastic wrappers were sent back to the companies, which has been made possible through Roots (Resource Out Of Trash) societies in various schools in the town. Students who are part of Roots create awareness against use of plastics, collect the waste for recycling, much on the lines of the 3Rs — reduce, reuse and recycle. Sanitary workers help sort the wrappers collected based on their brand before final dispatch.

Ahead of the curve

A local single-use plastic ban was also announced from August 15, within Corporation limits, well ahead of the State-wide ban. Stakeholder meetings with shop owners, awareness activities, and incentive schemes were launched. Government offices across the district were asked to lead the way by wiping out plastics.

However, the ban, which was initially successful by managing to wipe out plastic carry bags and a host of other plastic products to a large extent, seems to have lost its initial gusto as plastic is seen to be making a comeback in the town.

S. Raghu, a shop owner who sells alternatives like bioplastics and areca leaf plates at Bryant Nagar, said that the demand never picked up after the local ban, especially because of the high cost of alternatives. “While a plastic bag costs as less as 15-20 paise, the price of a bioplastic bag starts around ₹2.80,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Corporation has also managed to introduce source segregation in 45 out of 60 wards, said Stalin Packiyanathan, Sanitary Officer, West Zone. Until November, a total of ₹1.01 crore from the sale of the waste had been ploughed back to the workers, with each sanitary worker getting ₹20-50 per day over and above their daily wages of ₹304.

While most of the organic waste is converted into manure through micro-composting centres, some of it is also diverted to consenting farmers, and directly converted into manure naturally in their farmlands. Although the end product is manure in both the cases, the process involved in the latter is a much less resource-intensive one. The manure produced has been found to be of good quality.

Drain cars

When open drains, clogged with plastic, silt and other waste are desilted, workers simply remove the waste and leave them unattended on the roadside until it is removed days later.

With the introduction of 60 drain cars, the waste removed from the drains is put into buckets on a wagon. The waste water drains to the bottom of the wagon, and is let out into the drain using a hose pipe.

The residue is disposed of at the nearest bin, without the need to leave it unattended, said V. Ariganesan, Sanitary Officer, North Zone, who came up with the idea.

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