India follows China, Bans Waste Imports

Following China, which banned waste imports, particularly Plastic waste in 2018, India has followed suit , notifying its own ban on March 1. That's a sensible move.

When Prime Minister Modi pledged to phase out single use plastic in India by 2022, the world took notice. So much so, that UN Environment  gave him the Champions of Earth award, besides highlighting the Indian pledge as the headline success story of the fight against plastic pollution in 2018.

For skeptics though, the Indian pledge, or Mr Modi’s promise, was an ambitious, and perhaps impractical move, considering how difficult the country has found  it, to fight against plastic waste so far.  Plastic bans, instituted across the country, in almost every state, have had a limited effect so far in truly cutting down plastics use. Tokenism, in the form of straws on demand, banning plastic bottles by some state governments in offices etc have also hit the headlines, but not made a significant impact. In fact, most pledges, even by India-based firms, have been more about CAPPING their plastic usage at 2020 or similar levels, rather than a conscious move to reduce, which is the need of the hour. The country had imported close to 48,000 tonnes of plastic bottles and scrap in 2017-18.

On March 1, through a quite announcement, the environment ministry took a big step, by banning the import of plastic waste into the country. This move, which follows the similar Chinese ban of 2018, will certainly help cut down an unnecessary source of pollution, and hopefully, push the waste handling infrastructure that exists to handle ‘imported’ waste to look at the domestic market anew

Domestically, of course, the issues have been many. From poor segregation, to improper handling and poor collection facilities, even the waste to energy experience in India has been a mixed bag, with some of the plants performing very poorly due to these issues.

For waste exporters, especially the US, the Indian decision comes at a time when their own recycling industries are yet to adapt to the closure of the Chinese market as a dumping ground. With  limited domestic capability to process and recycle waste, thanks to the China option, they will need to find more innovative ways to process waste. While destinations like Vietnam, thailand and some other countries will still be an option, there is no way they can substitute for the China market, and now, the Indian closure.

For India, the ban marks a serious signal of intent, and one hopes that the next logical steps, to start tackling domestic waste on a war footing will start soon too. There is also a clear opportunity for waste management experts to find innovative ways to handle the new challenge, as there is a worldwide market for the right solutions.

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Madhulika has been a late convert to the sustainability movement. However, she is making up for lost time by studying intensively, and has decided to focus on water and its role in sustainable societies.

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