In continuation with the mandate of ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan’, Hon’ble Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi has committed to phase out single use plastics (SUPs) by 2022. Ever since plastic was invented by John W Hyatt in 1869, it has been an integral part of our modern lives. The flexibility, lightness and durability of plastics have added to the convenience of mankind and therefore have entered into various spaces of our lives. From using a plastic toothbrush, drinking water from a plastic bottle to using a plastic bag for multiple purposes, the use of plastic has become ubiquitous. At the same time, the pervasive use of plastics has resulted in one of the greatest environmental, health, social and economic challenges worldwide.

SUPs refer to plastics which are used just once, as in disposable packaging such as bottles, grocery bags, plates, cutlery, and straws. According to the United Nations, any plastic made out from polymers of High Density Polyethylene (HDPE), Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE), Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET), Polystyrene (PS), Polycarbonate, Polypropylene (PP), and Expanded polystyrene (EPS) is SUPs.The elimination of SUPs has become a worldwide campaign as its large and growing volume adds enormously to the total plastic waste. Governments around the world are increasingly working to scale up efforts to address plastic pollution. According to a report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) more than 60 countries have introduced bans and levies to curb single-use plastic waste. It also estimated that one to 5 trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide each year. Five trillion is almost 10 million plastic bags per minute.

Brochure for National Convention 2020

India produces about 15,000 tonnes of plastic waste daily. Out of this about 9,000 tonnes is recycled. The remaining plastic is either burnt leading to air pollution or ends up in landfills or clogs drains, resulting in social concerns for the municipal administration and citizens in different parts of the country. A FICCI study estimates that 43 per cent of India’s plastic is used in packaging and much of it is SUPs. Taking environmental impacts into consideration, imposing a ban on SUPs, combined with the adoption of better waste management models like the segregation of wastes or proper division of wastes, can go a long way in achieving the targeted goals in different parts of the country.

To address the growing concerns, there are certain initiatives, offering pragmatic solutions, which have been undertaken by the government. For instance, taking cognizance of the available technology, the government has started using plastic to build roads which will not only withstand future monsoon damage but also solve the problem of disposing of non-recyclable plastic. According to the World Economic Forum (WEF) such roads are durable against extreme weather conditions, cost effective and pothole resistant. With one tonne of plastic, one kilometer of road can be made. More than one lakh kilometers of roads have already been constructed in India using plastic waste in at least 11 states, including Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh among others.

Besides, a growing number of governments at the state and local levels are also taking actions to address the challenge of SUPs through imposition of bans. In this direction, several states such as Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Punjab, Haryana, Kerala, Maharashtra, Sikkim, Delhi and West Bengal among others have introduced bans on the manufacturing, production, distribution, use and storage of plastic carrier bags and other plastic materials.

Many success stories can be drawn from these different states of India that can provide meaningful lessons for addressing the challenge in an effective manner. Learning from the experience of different states across India as well as countries across the globe that have introduced bans and regulations on SUPs can help formulate deliverable action-plans and drive innovation. Addressing the irreparable environmental impact of SUPs as well as effective delivery of the Indian government’s initiative to phase out SUPs would require governments at both national and state level to regulate the use of SUPs, businesses to innovate and individuals to act.

SUPs have become a national challenge, a matter of academic discourse and policy deliberation. Rambhau Mhalgi Prabodhini (RMP) has set a tradition to address contemporary societal, policy, political and governance challenges through research, dissemination and awareness by organizing various workshops and seminars on such pertinent issues. In continuation with earlier National Conventions, this year RMP’s National Convention would be themed around “Elimination of Single Use Plastics (SUPs): Possibilities and Opportunities for New India”.

The main aim of the National Convention is to deliberate on some pertinent questions: What are the initiatives at national and state levels to eliminate the use of SUPs? What have the governments (central & state), businesses and individuals achieved at national and state levels to curb the consumption of SUPs? What are the lessons that these practices offer for policymakers who are considering regulating the production and use of SUPs? What are the measures that the government needs to undertake to improve waste management practices? What are the nature of financial incentives that the government needs to introduce to change the habits of consumers, retailers and manufacturers? What is the extent of finance that the government would require to invest in research and development of alternative materials, raise awareness among people and fund innovation? What impact will the preferred course of action have on different sectors and industries?

Themes discussed at the Convention:

  • The Plastic Problem: Effects on Environment, Health and Civic Management
  • Achieving Plastics (SUPs) Free India through alternatives to Plastic
  • The other side of the Plastic Story: Effect on Industry and Jobs
  • Successful Case studies from Public, Private, Industrial, Civil Society Sector
  • Roadmap to SUP Free India: Role of Society, Government, Industry