Editorial

Plastic, biomedical waste produced by Covid must be dealt with properly

| Updated on July 21, 2020 Published on July 21, 2020

The Centre should stitch together a national protocol that combines The Bio-Medical Waste Management Rules, 2016, with the recently released Environment Ministry guidelines on ‘extended producer responsibility’ for producers of plastic

With the onset of Covid-19, the exponential spike in the use of plastic — that too, of the single-use variety, exemplified by personal protection equipment — has created a mammoth crisis of plastic waste all over the world. It has rendered redundant the ban on single-use plastic in many parts of the world, including India, where the ban was imposed in 2016. The crisis, so far barely acknowledged in policy circles, was reported recently in BusinessLine (July 17). The Environment Minister informed the Lok Sabha last November that more than 25,000 tonnes of plastic waste are generated everyday, of which 40 per cent remains uncollected and littered in the environment — a figure that is likely to have increased quite significantly in these times. What’s all the more disturbing is the biomedical content in this waste, which could create a new set of health complications during the monsoon and the consequent contamination of soil and water.

While China produces 30 per cent (77 kg per capita per annum) of the world’s plastic, enabling it to ramp up output with the outbreak of the pandemic, and its recycling facilities are reasonably developed as well. In the UK, effective segregation along with a system that generates energy from burning plastic is in operation. India has no time to lose in ramping up infrastructure and social capacity to recycle plastic and biomedical waste. It must set up recycling plants across the country (in fact, envisaged under the Smart cities project) under PPP mode. States such as Kerala and Delhi have some plans in place for urban waste management; however, the special guidelines from the Central Pollution Control Board on the handling of biomedical waste generated in the wake of Covid-19 have not prevented the piling up of biomedical waste in urban centres.

The Centre needs to stitch together a national protocol that combines The Bio-Medical Waste Management Rules, 2016, with the recently released Environment Ministry guidelines on ‘extended producer responsibility’ (EPR) for producers of plastic. The latter, released only last month, does not refer to the pandemic but makes useful suggestions on how plastic producers should fund the urban local bodies in recycling waste. In a larger context, the 15th Finance Commission must relook at provision of funds for urban local bodies. A coordinated response is called for, involving panchayats, zilla parishads, State governments and the Centre. As for ensuring that plastic producers take full responsibility for recycling what they have produced, the June policy paper does not spell out how exactly that will happen, given the role of the informal sector. The Centre can incentivise start-ups and SMEs offering solutions for Covid refuse segregation and treatment. Besides the global expertise, there are cues to be taken from local initiatives such as the Covid biomedical waste treatment plant in Kerala’s Palakkad.

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Published on July 21, 2020
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