In spite of a ban on the import of plastic waste into India, the influx of PET bottles has quadrupled from 2017 to 2018 thanks to legal loophole, says a Delhi-based environmentalist organisation, Pandit Deendayal Upadhyay Smriti Manch (PDUSM).
“Indian firms are importing plastic scraps from China, Italy, Japan and Malawi for recycling and the imports of PET bottle scrap & flakes has increased from 12,000 tonnes in FY 16-17 to 48,000 tonnes in FY 17-18 growing @ 290%. India has already imported 25,000 MT in the first 3 months of FY 18-19,” says a note by the organisation.
Government and industry estimates suggest that India consumes about 13 million tonnes of plastic and recycles only about 4 million tonnes.
A lack of an efficient waste segregation system and inadequate collection is the root cause, according to experts, for much of the plastic not making its way to recycling centres.
To incentivise domestic plastic recycling units, the government had banned the import of plastic waste, particularly PET bottles in 2015. In 2016, an amendment allowed such imports as long as they were carried out by agencies situated in Special Economic Zones. It’s this loophole that’s been exploited.
A senior Union environment ministry official, who declined to be identified, told The Hindu that while the ministry couldn’t vouch for whether such plastic imports had quadrupled, it was true that the imports had “substantially increased” and action was being contemplated. “We’ve been apprised of these imports and they’re quite substantial. We’re beginning internal investigations to see how this can be addressed,” the official added.
Ravi Agrawal, director of Toxics Link, an organisation that works on plastic waste management, said that figures were “plausible” as China, once a major global importer of plastic waste for recycling, had banned such imports.
“It’s possible that some of that is making its way to India but I can’t be sure of these numbers,” Mr. Agrawal said.