New Approach Required to Solve Single-use Plastics Problem in India

Internationally reputed d2w plastic additive technology that provides solution to single use plastics problem by making plastics biodegradable has yet to be inducted in India.

Biodegradable plastics technology will enable the plastics industry to create a sustainable and smart version of plastics that biodegrades safely without adversely affecting the environment

India needs simplified process for producers to adopt new biodegradable technology which is economical and quicker to implement

Plastic waste has been one of the most significant environmental problems challenging humankind. Experts have realised that conventional plastics, which takes several hundred years to degrade are a critical ecological hazard. As per the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report, about 85% of plastics turn into unregulated waste reaching oceans and landfills, and only 10% of plastics ever produced globally have ever been recycled. While the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle (RRR) is often claimed to be one of the most optimum mantras to solve the problem, it has yet to be effective.

Banning plastics isn’t a solution. The real fix lies in not moving to extremes but adopting the new technological advancements in plastic manufacturing. The answer today comes in designing and producing a better version of biodegradable plastics using d2W additives by Symphony Environmental, India. d2w uses pro-degradant in the form of masterbatch which is added 1% by weight while manufacturing plastic packaging materials. This does not require any change in machinery, equipment & production process. It makes plastic packaging material biodegradable. These new and modern plastics with d2W additives remains 100% recyclable however if the packaging material ends up becoming single use plastic then the packaging material biodegrades in less than two years. The d2w technology fundamentally changes how plastics are viewed, made and used in the future. At the end of the useful life of the packaging material, the d2W additive turns material into CO2, water and biomass. This degradation process is not as simple as fragmentation or disintegration but goes beyond. Post degradation, the product changes from a long chain polymers of high molecular weight into low molecular weight monomers or oligomeric fragments and oxygen-containing molecules. It subsequently becomes bio-assimilation food for microorganisms like naturally present bacteria and fungi in soil or aquatic environment. At that stage, it is no longer plastic and has become an inherently biodegradable material and absorbs water. Post the biodegradation process, the substance left behind is nothing more than biomass, water and carbon-di-oxide (in very small quantity).

Mr. Sunil Panwar, CEO of Symphony Environmental India, said, “In India nearly 40% of the consumer plastic waste end up becoming single use plastic and 3.47 million metric tons of plastic waste was generated as per the statistics available in year 2019-20. Plastic consumption in India has grown 23 times from year 1990 (0.9 MMT) to 2022 (20.89 MMT). There is an urgent need to adopt sustainable, environmentally safe and economically affordable technology to curb the SUP problem. Our d2w technology meets all these requirements. It has been tested as per ASTM D6954 standard at BIS accredited laboratory in India. Testing is undergoing as per IS 17899 T:2022, which is a tentative provision issued by BIS in June 2022. A notification issued by MoEFCC on July 7th, 2022 requires biodegradable plastics to be tested as per IS 17899 T: 2022. The testing of biodegradable plastics may take two years or longer. No producer has been able to receive the certificate from CPCB yet as the testing time is very long and regulatory requirements are very complex. Industry is willing to cooperate and comply to the rules but there is a need to simplify the implementation process.

Mr. Radu Baciu, Symphony Group Technical Director-Symphony Environmental Technologies, PLC, London, UK, explains the current situation and says, “The d2W technology is a revolutionary solution for the single use plastics. It makes polyolefin plastic materials bio-degradable in the presence of oxygen. We are fortunate that in India we have ample sunlight and warm temperature conditions which further helps to accelerate the process of biodegradation. This technology is new in India but it has already been adopted in many other countries after thorough testing as per the established global test standards.”

What is the way to move forward

The Plastic Waste Management rules came into implementation from July 1st, 2022. The enforcement of PWM Rules requires a test standard. The time BIS requires to set up a new standard was not available therefore BIS could only issue a temporary provision called IS 17899 T;2022. The CPCB issued a SOP to issue the certificate for biodegradable plastics in the end of August 2022. The criterion of CPCB is unfair for the industry as in the interim period itself, it requires a biodegradability of about 90% to be achieved for ongoing testing and for the issuance of provisional certificate. While the products undergo long duration testing, for producer to offer provisional certificate to carry on manufacturing is well intended. It is essential to note that it will not serve the purpose as biodegradability of up to 90% may take up to two to be achieved. within a short interim timeframe. This defeats the purpose of offering a provisional certificate to the producer who has shown the intent to comply. What makes the testing process more uncertain is that IS 17899 T; 2022 is a tentative standard and probably defective therefore BIS has asked MoEFCC not to issue certificates for samples tested as per IS 17899 T:2022. Therefore, a provisional certificate offering by regulators before two years seems practically highly unlikely. What should the plastic industry do in this situation

India has more than 1,50,000 plastic manufacturing units out of this about 1,30,253 plastic manufacturing units come under the MSME sector. These MSME units employ nearly 16 Lakh workers. In several states production of plastic packaging products has stopped and people are losing their jobs. The cost for testing is anywhere between Rs. 4.5 lakhs to Rs. 5.5 lakhs per sample, leaving them in a 2 year plus limbo of uncertainty without provisional manufacturing reliefs. To ameliorate the situation, we propose an alternate criterion for reducing biodegradability test duration or adopting an existing global test standard like ASTM D6954. With such supporting amendments, provisional certificates to manufacturers could be issued. Then, after two years of complete testing, the results will be available to issue permanent certificates.

Due to this delay and confusion in offering provisional permissions to India’s plastic manufacturers, many established industrial sectors of this domain are facing a tough time pan-India, including states like Punjab, Karnataka and Gujarat. Climate change targets are not an option, and COP 26 targets for 2030 are serious. To simplify the process for the uptake of d2w additive, in the interest of plastic packaging makers and the environment at large. There is a severe constraint in testing capacity. The number of producers of plastic packaging materials are very large and additive suppliers are few therefore the supplier of biodegradable additives can be certified by CPCB, reducing the cost burden, technical hassle and risk factor on the local plastic manufacturers. The producer, who uses this approved additive, can get certified. It is also pertinent to state that BIS IS 17899 T:2022 is a tentative standard and was urgently brought out without complete reviews. BIS may adopt an established global test standard like ASTM D6954 until they finalise their own standard to offer manufacturers provisional certificates. Interestingly ASTM D6954 standard already considers factors like molecular weight reduction to 5,000 Da and a 95% loss in mechanical properties in abiotic degradation and seeks only 60% biodegradation. Intertek, Mumbai, a BIS accredited lab in India, has successfully concluded three complete biodegradability tests on Symphony’s d2w biodegradable plastic products according to the American Standard ASTM D6954.

Government has shown the serious intent by setting up a committee under the Chairmanship of Hon’ble Member NITI Aayog (S&T), Dr V.K. Saraswat, to develop alternative solutions and technologies to deal with the problem of single-use plastics. The committee composition involves all the stakeholders, including MoEFCC, CPCB, BIS, CIPET, Department of S and T, IITs and Industry Representatives. This committee has made significant progress in the previously held two meetings, and the third meeting is due in early May 2022. The committee is looking at the possibility of reducing the testing time so that provisional certificates could be issued without delay.

About Symphony Environmental

Symphony Environmental Technologies plc specialises in developing and marketing a wide range of global plastic products and environmental technologies. Having an international presence, its innovative solutions are here for the world to benefit from. In particular, the company is a world leader in developing and marketing controlled-life plastic and sells both pro-degradant additives and protective technologies for plastics through a growing network of international distributors and agents.