Mapping the Journey of EPR

The Story of Plastic, Waste Management & EPR

The Latin word ‘Plastic’ means something that is easily moulded and remoulded into any shape without breaking. Mr Leo Baekeland synthesized worlds first synthetic plastic in 1907 and since then, plastic has taken over the world and has become the most appreciated product.


Plastic is a very polarizing material. It divides people into two extremely opposite categories. One camp believes that plastic is a wonder material and has made our lives easier by penetrating every aspect of our life, be it food and pharma packaging, mobile and electronic devices, automobiles, apparels and shoes and so on, the list is endless. On the contrary, the other camp believes that plastic is a bane to our environment, and it should be banned as it pollutes the rivers and oceans, takes hundreds of years to degrade, has entered our food chain, is carcinogenic etc. There is no end to this debate and picking sides can be very difficult. We can neither ignore the conveniences that plastic has brought to our lives nor can we ignore the hazards and environmental pollution caused by it.

Story of Plastic

Let’s look at the journey of this popular material from its genesis to its end of life.

Virgin Granules: These are produced from cracking of petroleum. These virgin granules find their application in various products like plastic packaging, PET bottles, jars and containers etc. through the process of injection and blow moulding.

Market entry: These plastic products then find their entry into the market through various ways depending on their application like packaging plastic comes into market through FMCG companies which use it for packaging of their consumer goods like ready to eat food, shampoo, oils etc. Furthermore, due to the limitations on a cost-effective and convenient alternative to plastic, plastic consumption and its demand is increasing 10% year on year.

Waste: The consumer who buys these products, throws away the plastic once it is used and gives no further utility to him creating waste.

In the absence of effective collection and take back mechanism and low levels of segregation, almost 30% of plastic in India remains uncollected and litters around. A vast number of informal ragpickers and scrap dealers, almost 2% of our population work in all this of waste and bring the same into the recycling chain. However, due to the very hard labour involved in this, they pick up only that waste which has very high value like the PET bottles, shampoo jars, oil cans, boxes etc. The low-value plastics like biscuit wrappers, chocolate wrappers, chips packets don’t get picked up and cause littering.

Recycler: Finally, the recycler accepts the waste plastic from the ragpickers/scrap-dealers/ aggregators. This plastic can be in any form like mixed plastic, shredded/ground plastic. After procuring a sufficient quantity of plastic waste, the recycler ensures if the waste is of the same quality andcolour. The recycler then cleans/washes the plastic to remove the dust and then subjects it to extrusion machinery which melts the plastic at predefined high temperatures and converts it into granules again. These recycled granules again find their application into product making. Due to this chain of ragpickers and recyclers, India is able to recycle almost 60% of its total plastic waste produced per day.

Waste Management

The onset of the Industrial Revolution in the late 1700s caused a tremendous increase in the world population and GDP per capita. This also led to a drastic rise in the amount of waste generated by the large population.

The concept of waste management originally came into being in the early 1800’s with regards to sanitation and public health issues. But the management of other waste materials like we identify today, germinated during World War II. It gained national attention in Europe and America as National Salvage Campaign (1939) and Salvage for Victory(1942) respectively, to provide materials for war. This was the first time that waste was looked at as a resource.

This was the foundation for the concept of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) which was formally introduced to the world by Thomas Lindhqvist in 1990.

Till this time the country’s taxpayer borne the cost for recycling done by the municipal corporations. EPR introduced the thought that the financial burden of recycling can be shifted to the Producers and Brand Owners.

In the Rio de Janerio Earth Summit, this concept was spread globally and was vigorously implemented by most of the European nations. EPR has been implemented via Voluntary Industry-led models or by government enforcement. India first introduced this concept in 1986 through the Environmental Protection Act, which described the Polluter Pays Principle. Recycled Plastics Usage and Manufacture Rules introduced in 1999 were not implemented and were then superseded by The Plastics Rules in 2009. Bio-Medical Rules were introduced in 1998 followed by Hazardous Waste Rules in 2008.

India implemented EPR much recently, in 2016 by government enforcement. It began primarily for e-waste management, superseding the E-Waste Rules of 2010, and then took plastic waste also under its jurisdiction. Revised E-Waste Management rules 2016 followed by Plastic Waste Management Rules 2016 made the targets more defined and implementation more stringent.

These rules saw refined amendments in the year 2018 when some Indian states became aggressively involved in the implementation of EPR.