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Biodiversity & Environment

Peak Plastics: Bending the Consumption Curve

  • 04 Mar 2023
  • 8 min read

For Prelims: G20, Microplastics, National Dashboard on Elimination of Single Use Plastic and Plastic Waste Management, Plastic Waste Management Amendment Rules, 2022, Project REPLAN, Circular economy.

For Mains: Issues Associated with Plastic, Recent Government Initiatives Related to Plastic Waste Management.

Why in News?

A new report suggests that plastic consumption in G20 countries will almost double by 2050, with the volume of plastic consumption rising to 451 million tonnes from 261 million tonnes in 2019.

  • The report, "Peak Plastics: Bending the Consumption Curve," explores the potential impact of policies being considered by the United Nations' plastic treaty negotiators.

What does the Report on Plastic Consumption Suggest?

  • The report examined the potential impact of three key policies that cover the entire lifecycle of plastic, from production to disposal.
    • These policies include a ban on problematic single-use plastic, a polluter pays extended producer responsibility scheme for full end-of-life costs, and a tax on virgin plastic production.
  • The study found that a combination of these policies and bolder action, including possible restrictions on virgin plastic production, will bring about peak plastic and see consumption slow in the future.
    • The researchers described peak plastic consumption as the point and volume at which global plastic consumption stops growing and begins to recede.
  • The analysis is focused on the 19 countries of the G20 — Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
  • The report warned that extended producer responsibility schemes will have a minimal effect on the consumption of single-use plastic products.
    • A global ban on unnecessary single-use plastic items will be the most effective policy. South Korea was the first to do so nationally for selected products in 2019, later expanding the ban to other items. India, France, Germany, Italy, Canada and China have also imposed nationwide bans.

What is the Significance of Plastic?

  • Resistant, inert, and lightweight, plastic offers many benefits to companies, consumers, and other links in society. This is all because of its low-cost and versatile nature.
    • In the medical industry, plastics are used to keep things sterile. Syringes and surgical implements are all plastic and single use.
    • In the automotive industry, it has allowed a significant reduction in vehicle weight, reducing fuel consumption and, consequently, the environmental impact of automobiles.

What are the Issues Associated with Plastic?

  • Single Use Plastic:
    • Plastics are primarily produced from crude oil, gas, or coal, and 40% of total plastic is discarded after a single use.
      • Our relationship with plastic is short-term focused. Many of these products, such as plastic bags and food wrappers, have a lifespan of mere minutes to hours, yet they may persist in the environment for hundreds of years.
  • Microplastics:
    • Sea, sunlight, wind, and wave action break down plastic waste into small particles, often less than one-fifth of an inch across called microplastics. Spread throughout the water column and have been found in every corner of the globe.
      • Microplastics are breaking down further into smaller and smaller pieces- Plastic microfibers. They have been found in municipal drinking water systems and drifting through the air.
  • Other Issues:
    • Upsets the Food Chain:
      • Polluting plastics can affect the world’s tiniest organisms, such as plankton. When these organisms become poisoned due to plastic ingestion, this causes problems for the larger animals that depend on them for food.
        • Larger items, such as plastic bags and straws, can choke and starve marine life.
    • Impact on Human Health:
      • The World Health Organisation published shocking research in 2018 that exposed the presence of microplastics in 90% of bottled water.
        • We absorb plastic through our clothes, 70% of which are synthetic and the worst fabric for the skin.

What are the Initiatives Related to Plastic Waste Management?

Way Forward

  • Identifying Hotspots:
    • Identifying key hotspots of Plastic leakage associated with production, consumption, and disposal of Plastic can assist governments in developing effective policies that address the plastic problem directly.
  • Breaking Down Plastic Waste:
    • Plastic has become so enmeshed in our ecosystem that bacteria have evolved to digest it. ‘
      • Plastic-eating bacteria, discovered in Japan, have been cultivated and modified to digest polyester plastics (food packaging and plastic bottles)
  • Circular Economy for Plastic Management:
    • Circular economy can reduce material use, redesigns materials to be less resource intensive, and recaptures “waste” as a resource to manufacture new materials and products.
      • Circular economy is not just applicable to the global currents of plastic and clothes, but can also contribute significantly to the achievement of sustainable development goals.

UPSC Civil Services Exam, Previous Year Questions (PYQ)

Q1. Why is there a great concern about the ‘microbeads’ that are released into environment? (2019)

(a) They are considered harmful to marine ecosystems.
(b) They are considered to cause skin cancer in children.
(c) They are small enough to be absorbed by crop plants in irrigated fields.
(d) They are often found to be used as food adulterants.

Ans: (a)

Q2. In India, ‘extend producer responsibility’ was introduced as an important feature in which of the following? (2019)

(a) The Bio-medical Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 1998
(b) The Recycled Plastic (Manufacturing and Usage) Rules, 1999
(c) The E-Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2011
(d) The Food Safety and Standard Regulations, 2011

Ans: (c)

Source: DTE

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