Plastic Waste Management (Amendment) Rules, 2024

The Environment Ministry of India has recently introduced new rules that make it more difficult for manufacturers of disposable plastic products to label them as ‘biodegradable.’

The updated Plastic Waste Management (Amendment) Rules, 2024, now require that biodegradable plastics not only degrade through biological processes in specific environments but also leave no microplastics behind.

Biodegradable and Compostable Plastics

Biodegradable and compostable plastics are two broad categories of technological solutions aimed problem of plastic waste pollution.

  • Biodegradable plastics are treated before they are sold and are expected to decompose naturally over time when discarded, although there are no tests yet to determine if they completely degrade.
  • Compostable plastics, on the other hand, do degrade but require industrial or large municipal waste management facilities to do so.

New Definition of Biodegradable Plastics

The new amendments to the Plastic Waste Management (Amendment) Rules, 2024, define biodegradable plastics as materials that not only degrade through biological processes in specific environments such as soil or landfills but also leave no microplastics behind.

However, the rules do not specify which chemical tests can be used to establish the absence of microplastics or to what extent microplastics must be reduced in a sample to consider them eliminated.

Challenges for Manufacturers

We note here that there are multiple sources of microplastics in the environment, including water, soil, and composting medium. If a standard for microplastics is eventually determined, it should include both compostable and biodegradable plastics for fairness sake.

Microplastics and Pollution

Microplastics, defined as solid plastic particles insoluble in water with dimensions between 1 µm and 1,000 µm, have been reported as a major source of pollution affecting rivers and oceans in recent years. The increased attention on biodegradable plastics comes after the Union government banned single-use plastic in 2022 and recommended the adoption of biodegradable plastic, among other measures.

Confusion Over Biodegradable Plastic Standards

Despite the ban on single-use plastics, the question of what exactly constitutes biodegradable plastic remains unanswered. Several firms have been left in limbo as the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) refuses to provide them with a ‘provisional certificate’ to license their products as biodegradable. The CPCB only considers a plastic sample biodegradable if it has degraded by 90%, a process that takes at least two years. Manufacturers who showed that their samples had degraded by a smaller percentage, such as 5% in 45 days, were refused a ‘provisional certificate’ because the rules do not specify the degree of degradation that would merit such a certificate.



Leave a Reply