Back to Blue is multi-year initiative from Economist Impact and The Nippon Foundation that aims to help organisations improve ocean health and sustainability. The first instalment of this initiative is the Plastics Management Index, which ranks 25 countries globally across 44 indicators organised into three categories: governance, systemic capacity, and stakeholder engagement.

The analysis for India reveals gaps and weaknesses throughout the ecosystem, from the collection system, to recycling and infrastructure, to collaboration on solutions. There is significant potential for further improvement.

Governance is India’s key plastics management weakness. Policy gaps exist at the central government level, and there is currently weak implementation and monitoring of existing policies. There is also a need to change consumer behaviour as awareness of the threat that plastic poses to the environment does not always translate into better practices on the ground. Granular data on plastic flows and on value change is patchy and not uniformly reliable. There is an immediate need to build on the present momentum and improve the level of commitment among large and small companies to reduce plastics waste.

Key points

  • Realistic solutions and regulations are needed to encourage changes to consumer behaviour. Consumers also need to demand change themselves and demonstrate their willingness to adapt.
  • Cities have the ultimate responsibility to clean up plastic waste, so they need to be incentivised and engaged in policy making and decisions.
  • Innovative multi-stakeholder programmes to build capacity and improve the working conditions and lives of waste collectors are underway in some municipalities. These should be harnessed and implemented in more municipalities to expand the impact.
  • Steps need to be taken to encourage a more cohesive national and global plastics ecosystem. Stakeholders need to be aligned on the challenges they target, and any solution needs to be economically viable.
  • A lack of data and access to data is a significant hindrance to progress in India. This needs to be addressed from the ground up to facilitate measurement, policy development and risk analysis, to measure recycling capability, and to predict future needs. It’s also vital to facilitate infrastructure investment.
  • Programmes to improve data are ongoing but greater cooperation and sharing of data among stakeholders is required to overcome the data challenge. Frameworks and platforms also need to be established to improve data consistency and application.
  • Infrastructure is lacking in most parts of India. Investment is required to build capacity to manage future recycling needs as enforcement improves and plastic bans are implemented.
  • For investors to fill this gap, governments and stakeholders need to present a business case for financing plastics infrastructure that deals with all plastic products, not just PET, to remedy the problems with the collection and recycling of most plastics in India.
  • A holistic, systems approach that encompasses consumers, businesses, behaviour and enforcement will be critical to solve the plastics management problems in India.

Economist Impact and The Nippon Foundation would like to thank all workshop participants for their time, insights and vibrant discussion.

Abhay Deshpande

Atin Biswas
Programme Director
Municipal Solid Waste
Centre for Science and Environment (CSE)

Charles Goddard
Editorial Director, Asia Pacific
Economist Impact

Ellen Martin
Chief Impact Officer
Circulate Capital

Mir Mohammed Ali IAS
Executive Director, Suchitwa Mission
Government of Kerala

Nadia Rasheed
UNDP Deputy Resident Representative

Navneet Chadha
Regional Lead, Resource Efficiency and Circular Economy
International Finance Corporation

Pratibha Priya
Chief Sustainability Officer
Lucro Plastecycle Private Limited

Punyasloke Bhadury
Professor of Biological Sciences
Indian Institute of Science Education and Research.

Sameer Joshi
Honourable Treasurer, Governing Council
India Plastics Institute

Seema Arora
Deputy Director General
Confederation of Indian Industry

Shiv Kumar
Catalyst Group of Institutions

Siddarth Hande
Founder and CEO
Kabadiwalla Connect

Sujaya Desai
Portfolio Manager, Sustainable Funds Group
Stewart Investors

Varun Aggarwal
Associate Director, Sustainable Business
WWF India

Vishnu Vardhaan
Infinite Cercle Inc

Read more on the Plastic Management Index which examines plastic management through the lens of policy, regulation, business practice and consumer actions at a country level.

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