Holding businesses accountable for plastic pollution

Mumbai (May 19, 2018) As a lead-up to World Environment Day on June 5, environmental justice groups are launching today an unprecedented coordinated waste and brand audits in key cities in India.

Happeningfrom May 16 to May 30 in the cities of Delhi, Pune, Mumbai, Chennai,and Bengaluru along with various cities in Goa, Kerala, and 12 HimalayanStates, the audits seek to highlight the role of corporations in the globalplastic waste crisis, results of which will be published on 4th June. 

“Throughthese audits, we want to put the spotlight on corporations who have beenresponsible for the manufacturing, distribution, and proliferation ofnon-recyclable and single-use plastic packaging that ends up in our landfills,oceans and waterways,” Pratibha Sharma, India Coordinator of the GlobalAlliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) Asia Pacific, said. “The activityaims to gather important data to call for innovations in product packaging anddelivery systems to ensure that plastic waste is drastically reduced and thatNOTHING ends up in our oceans, landfills, and other disposal facilities,” sheadded. 

Indiaproduces a whopping 62 million tonnes of waste every year. A staggering 43million tonnes of solid waste is collected annually, out of which only 11.9million or 22-28% is treated, while about 31 million tonnes of waste is leftuntreated and dumped in landfill sites. The waste and particularly plasticmenace for Indian cities is compounded because of the poor state of solid wastemanagement and the inadequate infrastructure for sewerage and stormwaterdrainage. 

India’sPlastics Waste Management Rules 2016 emphasizes the phase-out of non-recyclablemulti-layered plastics by March 2018, and requires manufacturers, producers,and users of non-recyclable packaging to either pay municipalities for the costof managing such waste, or arrange to take it back and manage its disposalthemselves. While there have been attempts by local governments to ban plasticbags and single-use plastic in various cities of India, the move has receivedbacklash from the plastic industry. 

As a result,the Plastic Waste Management Rules were amended to benefit businessesmanufacturing and using plastic especially Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG)companies. The current amendment gives plastic producers a scope to argue thattheir products can be put to some other use, if not recycled. This movetantamounts to revoking a complete ban which it had implied earlier. This typeof plastic was supposed to be banned by March 2018, but it is nowhere near aphase-out. 

According toSharma, corporations have unfairly placed the blame on consumers for the wasteproblem when it is them who have been putting out and profiting from theproblematic products. 

SatyarupaShekhar, Director for Research and Advocacy at Chennai-based Citizen consumerand civic Action Group (CAG), co-organizer of the campaign,  said, “theburden of managing poorly designed and manufactured products falls on the citygovernments and its people and it is about time the businesses are madeaccountable for their unsustainable business practices.” 

June 5 iscelebrated annually as World Environment Day as declared by the United NationsEnvironment Programme (UNEP). India is the global host for this year’scelebrations with the theme, Beat Plastic Pollution, chosen “to combat one ofthe great challenges of our time.” 

Through thisconcerted effort, ten organizations in India, namely CAG in Chennai, Chintan inDelhi, SWaCH in Pune, Stree Mukti Sanghatana in Mumbai, Thanal in various partsof Kerala, V-recycle in Goa, Hasiru Dala and SWMRT in Bengaluru and Zero WasteHimalayas and Integrated Mountain Initiative in 12 Himalayan states, are comingtogether to question the preparedness and commitment of businesses to beatplastic pollution. These organizations have been working to implement ZeroWaste solutions to combat problems around poor solid waste management.

 Theorganizations, together with the Break Free From Plastic, a globalmovement of over 1,060 groups from across the world, are waging waragainst plastic pollution to demand massive reductions in single-use plasticsand to push for lasting solutions to the plastic pollution crisis. 

Zero wastepractitioners regularly conduct waste audits to monitor the types and volume ofwaste generated in a particular area. These systematic exercises help decisionmakers and communities to develop resource management plans which includeat-source segregation, comprehensive composting and recycling schemes, residualwaste reduction and demand for product redesign. In addition to identifying themost common types of waste, audits can also cover the identification of brandsand companies that use disposable, low-value or non-recyclable packaging fortheir products.  The groups, using a common brand audit tools andmethodology, are mobilizing citizen muscle with a common mission socorporations can no longer frame the issue as one of only consumerresponsibility.   

A brandaudit in marketing world examines a brand's current position in the marketcompared to its competitors and a review of its effectiveness.  Nowis the time to measure its true cost which has been externalized to theenvironment and public over the years.  Cities are already strugglingto fund waste collection systems, and they are still left to address waste thatcan neither be composted nor recycled.

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