Himalaya Diwas Special: Plastic in the Mountains
The Himalayas are undoubtedly India’s most important and dramatic land feature. It bestows upon the Himalayan states rich natural resources and a verdant beauty that is beyond compare. The numerous ecosystems that the Himalayas sustain are at risk because of the degenerative influence of plastic waste. The purpose of the Himalaya Diwas, which is celebrated on September 9, is to spread the message of conservation of the Himalayan ecosystems. The focus of this year’s Himalaya Diwas is on the impact of plastic on the region, and on finding viable solutions to deal with it.
Extended Producer Responsibility
While action is required on many fronts including waste collection, segregation and recycling, one of the most critical elements is to hold the producers responsible for the plastic that they send out into the market and communities. Waste management requires financial as well as physical support, and it is vital that the businesses that use single use, multi layer plastics be held responsible for their products.
The concept of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) was introduced in the Plastic Waste Management Rules 2016. EPR is a policy and a practice that holds producers responsible for the collection and processing of the manufactured products at the end of their lifetime. This responsibility is both fiscal as well as physical. With the enforcement of the EPR several Product Responsibility Organizations (PROs) have come up and help producers stay compliant with the country’s Plastic Waste Management Rules. These rules, unlike those in the past, cover urban as well as rural areas.
The twelve mountain states had got together in May this year under the aegis of the Integrated Mountain Initiative and Zero Waste Himalaya Group to conduct a Himalayan waste and brand audit. Spanning more than 200 locations it aimed to bring the issue of waste in the mountains in the forefront, and also to understand what was there in the waste. The campaign succeeded in highlighting the role of the corporates in the battle against single use plastic. It brought forth the EPR message which requires companies and businesses to be accountable for the life of the plastic that is used in manufacturing their products, and it called upon them to step up and take due responsibility.
Many large companies including Hindustan Unilever have pledged to reduce the plastic waste their products generate, and to make them ‘reusable, recyclable and compostable’ by 2025. While this is a right step in the right direction, the need of the hour is for businesses to take responsibility for the waste they generate right now, and not just in the future. Immediate steps must be taken to deal with plastic waste so we can soon see the positive consequences in the Himalayan ecosystems and environment. With the cooperation and shared responsibility of producers, government as well as the users, it is possible to ensure that the use of plastic packaged products can be considered a benefit and not a curse.
(The writer is founder-chairperson of Doon based think-tank, Gati Foundation)