Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) has been a revolution in the plastic waste management system in India. It is a well-known fact that there is value in sifting through the waste that we discard. And each act of sifting, collecting, sorting, grading, trading has an unseen and unrecognized army of waste pickers working each and every day to help maintain cleanliness in our surroundings.
However it is also evident that this task force has not found its belonging in the process of EPR. While addressing the issue of ever increasing plastic waste, we talk about producers’ responsibility, duties of the national authorities from the environmental and angle, but there is a more pressing issue that needs to be addressed. That is inclusivity, social responsibility and justice to the informal sector.
After all, waste is also a social priority, intricately connected to the sustainable development goals, culture and politics of the country. And the COVID-19 pandemic amplified the need for social-environmental stewardship for economic sustainability.
EPR in India
In June 2020, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, released the Draft Uniform Framework for Extended Producers Responsibility under the Plastic Waste Management Rules 2016. While this was the first time that such a document was released, India had first introduced Extended Producer’s Responsibility (EPR) in 2011 under the Plastic Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2011 and E-Waste Management and Handling Rules, 2011.
The Plastic Waste (M & H) Rules 2011, put the responsibility on the municipal authority for setting up, operationalising and coordinating waste management systems and working out the process of a mechanism based on EPR, for manufacturers and brand owners within their jurisdiction. This included setting up collection centres for plastic waste involving manufacturers by financing the operations, channelising plastic waste to recyclers and engaging agencies or groups working in waste management including waste pickers.
Unfortunately, not much progress was made. One of the Central Pollution Control Board’s Annual Report observed that municipal authorities have not been able to fulfill the tasks assigned to them for the management of plastic waste and this trend has continued.
How can the EPR Guidelines be more inclusive?
It has been observed that the current rules have not been completely inclusive of the informal waste workers and other ground level actors in the recycling value chain.
Firstly, In order to fast-track the EPR guidelines, consultations with waste pickers and other informal waste collectors, or representatives of waste pickers and informal recyclers were completely missed.
Second, For solutions to emerge from such EPR policies it is necessary that all stakeholders in the value chain be considered. The policies need to be built from a ground level understanding of waste collection along with people working in waste and industry representatives, given that the majority of current recycling activity takes place in the informal sector.
Third, there are a number of occupational and environmental hazards in the informal waste collection process, to which only concrete solutions like upgrades in the infrastructure can make a difference. In the large-scale scope of plastic waste management the inclusion of waste pickers and other informal aggregators is necessary to reach to the roots of effective waste management.
This will also help scale up the potential of the recycling industry in our country.
Fourth, Inclusion refers to respecting and considering different settings, systems, operations and the varied groups in the informal waste space and allowing their full participation in policy design and governance that affects their livelihoods.
Fifth, Inclusion is more than ‘register, regulate and tax’, it works in ways to improve the technical capacity, access to finances, upgrades to infrastructure, skill upgradation and social security in the informal sector, therefore turning it into a formal platform.
Finally, Inclusion, also acknowledges that the informal economy varies across the country, respects the entrepreneurial nature of such work and accepts that a tailor made policy will help achieve the purpose of optimal waste management.
Many examples of such initiatives can be found in Recykal’s stories. Stay tuned for our series of stories.
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