As befits a country of 1.4bn people with a fast-growing middle class, India’s plastic waste crisis is of enormous scale. The government’s Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) estimates that 3.5m million tonnes of plastic waste is generated each year in the country, a figure that some experts believe to be an underestimate. The crisis is also growing steadily: per-head plastic waste generation has doubled in the past five years, according to the CPCB.
It should, then, be no surprise that India is one of the world’s main sources of marine plastic pollution. By one estimate, India’s rivers emit more plastic waste into the sea (126,500 tonnes per year) than all other countries in the world bar the Philippines.
Such figures, even if estimates, indicate that India’s existing plastics management infrastructure and systems are not up to the task of stemming the tide of plastic waste polluting the country’s lands and waters, and those of its neighbours. India’s performance in the Plastics Management Index (PMI) confirms this: the country ranks 20th out of 25 countries with an overall score (41.5) that is well beneath the index average. (See this programme’s flagship report for a detailed discussion of the PMI’s global findings.)
The main stakeholders in India’s plastics ecosystem, including government, industry and non-government organisations (NGOs), clearly recognise the crisis’s gravity. Since 2016 the central government has drafted and updated policies governing different aspects of plastics management. Some state and municipal governments have gone further in setting their own rules (for example, banning all single-use plastic bags rather than certain types and sizes). And many of the country’s large consumer goods companies are committing to reaching plastic neutrality targets and pursuing awareness building initiatives among consumers.
In these and other areas, however, this study finds significant gaps between policy development and implementation, between commendable intention and action.