Primary producers dump recyclers’ proposal to import ‘banned’ PET bottles, DGFT to take appeal soon
Currently, the government has kept waste PET bottles in the “restricted” category, and therefore their import is not allowed. But, in 2021, a group of seven major recycling companies in India had petitioned the government to change government standards and change its status from a ‘prohibited’ to a ‘restricted’ category.
These recyclers argued that India faces a shortfall of 93,000 tonnes of waste PET bottles and therefore needs to be imported. For this, however, the Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT), under the Ministry of Trade and Industry, requires changing its import status from the “prohibited” to “restricted” category. In the “restricted” category, its import will be allowed with an endorsement, which means the government can impose certain restrictions while allowing the import of PET bottles.
For this purpose, DGFT convened a meeting of various Indian stakeholders, including the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, claimants, primary producers, recyclers, trade associations and the non-governmental organization (NGO) on March 30, 2022; and sought their advice before making a final decision on this matter. The DGFT invited representatives from the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Climate Change, applicants who wanted to import, the Plastics Export Promotion Council (Plexconcil), Pandit Deendayal Upadhyay Smriti Manch (PDUSM), among others.
During Wednesday’s virtual meeting, the recyclers argued that they had invested millions of dollars in setting up recycling plants, obtained prior environmental permits and all other legal approvals. If they do not get adequate raw materials, i.e. used PET bottles, they will have to close their factories, lay off thousands of employees and leave factories and machinery worth multi-million dollar, obsolete. Several recycling units have also borrowed working capital from various financial institutions.
“These working capital loans would have to be canceled if these factories closed their operations, which would put further pressure on the Indian financial system. Banks have already canceled several large-scale loans. Since we are ready to adhere to environmental guidelines, there should be no further harm to the environment as Indian companies have been recycling plastic waste for several years. Allowing the import of PET/flex bottles would promote India’s circular economy,” said a senior industry official who attended the meeting.
It is worth mentioning here that seven Indian companies had applied to the DGFT in 2021 to allow the import of 93,000 tons of plastic waste from countries such as the United States, Canada, Germany, citing a shortage of plastic waste in India. According to an estimate, more than 4650 million PET bottles of mineral water, cold drink, juice consumed in these countries could be imported into India (1 bottle = 20 grams), in the event of a change of status.
The proposal was backed by Plexconcil, a body under the Department of Trade and Industry, representing thousands of exporters of plastic products, including value-added PET bottles.
Sribash Dasmohapatra, Executive Director of Plexconcil, said: “The government should change the current standards and allow the import of used PET bottles with restrictions. Therefore, it is necessary to change its status from “prohibited” to “restricted”.
Participants said that primary producers protested against this decision arguing a proportional drop in demand for PTA and MEG, the main raw materials for the manufacture of PET bottles, which will eventually lead to a drop in their prices in local markets.
Vinod Shukla, Chairman of PDUSM, said, “There is no shortage of PET waste in India. According to industry data, over 1.4 million tonnes of PET plastic are consumed annually in India, and even with a global recycling rate of 80%, approx. 0.28 million tonnes of plastic bottle waste is never collected. While the whole world bans such imports to strengthen the local management of plastic waste, India was reportedly the first country to re-allow the import of plastic waste. Our main goal is to increase local waste collection. Our country’s waste must be recycled first, before importing waste from other countries to make recycled textiles/products.
The Indian government banned the import of plastic waste in 2019 to promote the management of locally generated plastic waste to reduce packaging pollution, in line with the “Swachh India and Swasth India” campaigns. The DGFT and the Ministry of the Environment wanted to create a win-win situation for all parties involved, which is why the meeting was called.
If key stakeholders collaborate and source 93,000 tonnes of locally generated PET waste by the end of 2022-23 under Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), it would protect India from the dangers from the import of plastic waste, would locally provide the necessary raw material for the importers to run their businesses and create the opportunity to collect every last bottle of waste generated in India. An important achievement to preserve the environment.
“We locally supplied the required amount of PET waste/raw materials for importers. Many environmentally conscious companies such as ITC, Unilever and the largest waste management companies Recykal and Shakti Plastics are willing to supply the full required amount of PET waste locally to these importers. It is imperative to keep the plastic waste import ban intact to strengthen the local waste collection and recycling ecosystem and to prevent the dumping of hazardous and toxic waste in India,” Shukla added.
According to the Basel Action Network (BAN), a global waste trade monitoring group and several reports, the illegal dumping of toxic and hazardous waste in the millions of tons also takes place under the guise of importing plastic waste and paper in India. Since the international trade of plastic waste is not effectively regulated, various other types of toxic and hazardous waste, i.e. pesticides, used clothes/shoes, biomedical waste, are also dumped in developing countries.
Under EPR, the user industry is required to collect a significant amount of the plastics it uses and ship the plastic waste for recycling. In addition, they will have to use a large part of the packaging materials produced from recycled plastics over the next two years.
The DGFT heard all the stakeholders on Wednesday. However, a final decision is awaited.
DILIP KUMAR JAI