Home / Politics / Policy /  Government notifies new hazardous waste management rules

New Delhi: India has banned the import of solid plastic waste, including PET bottles, as part of new hazardous waste management rules that aims to prevent the country from becoming a dumping yard for industrialised nations.

The Hazardous and Other Wastes (Management and Transboundary Movement) Rules, 2016 notified by the Union environment ministry on Sunday replaces its older version made in 2008. The new rules distinguish hazardous waste from others such as waste tyre, paper waste, metal scrap and used electronic items. The rules recognise the latter as a resource for recycling and reuse supplementing industrial processes, thereby reducing the load on the country’s resources.

Among other items banned for import are waste edible fats and oil of animals, household waste, tyres for direct re-use purpose, solid plastic wastes, including PET bottles, waste electrical and electronic assemblies scrap and other chemical wastes especially in solvent form.

“PET bottles are used by the fibre industry in India and import of plastic waste (PET bottles) is preferred because that ensures bulk availability. But India itself has a huge amount of plastic waste including PET bottles that remain uncollected and harm environment. These rules will ensure their collection and reduce load on our pollution," said a senior environment ministry official, who did not wish to be named.

The official added that industrialised countries like the US also do not allow importing plastic waste. “The new hazardous waste rules will ensure resource recovery and disposal of hazardous waste in an environmentally sound manner. The rules are environment and industry-friendly. The provisions of the new rules are in line with this government’s priority for Ease of Doing Business and Make in India, but with responsible concerns for sustainable development," said Union minister for environment, forest and climate change Prakash Javadekar.

Metal scrap, paper waste and various categories of electrical and electronic equipment for re-use purpose, however, can be imported without permission from the environment ministry.

Hazardous waste includes material like lead acid battery scrap, used oil, waste oil and spent catalysts.

According to the Central Pollution Control Board, total hazardous waste generation in India in 2015 was 7.46 million metric tonnes from about 44,000 industries.

Unscientific disposal of hazardous and other waste through burning or incineration leads to emission of toxic fumes comprising mercury, heavy metals, causing air pollution and associated health-related problems. Disposal in water bodies or municipal dumps leads to leaching of toxic substances in land and water, degrading soil and water quality.

The rules make state governments responsible for environmentally sound management of hazardous and other wastes and mandate them to set up industrial space or sheds for recycling, pre-processing and other utilization of hazardous or other waste.

The state authorities have also been asked to register the workers involved in recycling, undertake industrial skill development activities and ensure safety and health of workers. States must also submit annual reports regarding implementation of these rules to environment ministry. This is because workers employed in unscientific hazardous waste management practices suffer from neurological disorders, skin diseases, genetic defects and cancer.

The rules also mandates state pollution control boards to prepare an annual inventory of the waste generated, recycled, recovered, utilised including co-processed, waste re-exported and waste disposed.

Experts welcomed ban on import of plastic waste, but cautioned about allowing used electronic items as e-waste is already a huge problem in India. As per official estimates, everyday, 15,000 tonnes of plastic waste is generated in India of which only 9,000 tonnes is collected and processed. Thus every year, India has two million tonnes of plastic waste that is not collected. Similarly, India generates 17 lakh tonnes of e-waste a year, and it is rising at the rate of 5% a year.

“We have enough generation of plastic waste in country. So, it’s good that we are banning import of any plastic waste. It is a welcome step. But we need to be careful about import of used electronic items as they should not end up as cheap imports and increase India’s problem of electronic waste," said Ravi Agarwal, director at Toxics Link, a Delhi-based non-profit working on environmental issues.

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