Three years after plastic waste ban, Environment Ministry allows imported PET bottles for processsing

Decision was taken after representations from industries which process waste that there was too little waste for them

March 30, 2022 10:47 pm | Updated 10:47 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Plastic waste dumped into the Ketti stream. File

Plastic waste dumped into the Ketti stream. File | Photo Credit: The Hindu

After banning the import of plastic waste in 2019, the Environment Ministry has permitted PET Bottles, as plastic waste, to be imported for processing. The decision to rollback the ban was taken last year after representations by several industries in the business of processing waste said there was too little waste available for them in India and this was causing them financial losses.

An expert committee of the Environment Ministry, last December, had recommended that firms who had applied for permission could import PET Flakes/Bottles up to 50% of their production capacity. Polyethylene Terephthalate bottles are a category of plastic of which nearly 90% of the domestic supply is already recycled.

However, this reprieve has not gone down well with environmentalist groups.

On Wednesday however, the Directorate General of Foreign Trade, a Union Commerce Ministry held a consultative meeting of representatives from the Union Environment Ministry and environmentalist organisation Pandit Deendayal Upadhyay Smriti Manch (PDUSM), companies that had requested permission to import plastic waste and the Plastic Export Promotional Council.

In 2021, seven Indian companies have applied to import 93,000 tonnes of plastic bottles waste from countries such as America, Canada, Germany, citing a shortage of plastic waste in India. “More than 465 crore discarded PET bottles of mineral water, cold drink, juice consumed in these countries could be imported into our country (1 bottle – 20gms),” the PDUSM said in a statement.

A campaign by the PDUSM against the import of plastic waste had played a role in the Centre’s decision to impose a ban in 2019.

“There is no shortage of PET waste in India. As per the industry data, more than 14 lakh tonnes of PET plastic are consumed annually in India, and even with a global highest 80% recycling rate, approx. 2.8lakh tonnes of plastic bottles waste never gets collected. While the whole world is banning such imports to strengthen local plastic waste management, India would have been the first country to re-allow the import of plastic waste,” Vinod Shukla, President, PDUSM, told The Hindu, “Our main aim is to increase the collection of local waste. Our country’s waste must be recycled first, before importing waste from other countries to make textiles/recycled products.”

He said that he had already made arrangements to link Indian companies who would supply PET bottles to recyclers.

A senior official in the Union Environment Ministry, who did not want to be identified, told The Hindu that there was no blanket lifting of the import ban. “The import was permitted only for the PET bottles to be used for Recycled Polyester Staple Fibre and yarn. Currently the domestic capacity is limited and without imports these companies will suffer. So we have made a balanced decision, taking all stakeholders on board.”

The influx of PET bottles has reportedly quadrupled from 2017 to 2018 with Indian firms importing plastic scraps from China, Italy, Japan and Malawi for recycling. India consumes about 13 million tonnes of plastic and recycles only about 4 million tonnes. 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 SEZs. This was disallowed in 2019.

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