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Environment Ministry Permits Imported PET Bottles for Processing

Last December, an expert committee of the Environment Ministry recommended that firms that had applied for permission import up to 50% of their production capacity in PET Flakes/Bottles. Polyethylene Terephthalate bottles are a type of plastic that is already recycled in nearly 90 percent of the domestic supply.

Shivam Dwivedi
PET Bottles
PET Bottles

Decision was taken after representations from industries which process waste that there was too little waste for them. After prohibiting the import of plastic waste in 2019, the Environment Ministry has allowed PET Bottles to be imported for processing as plastic waste. The decision to lift the ban was made last year in response to complaints from several waste-processing industries that there was insufficient waste available in India, causing them financial losses.

Last December, an expert committee of the Environment Ministry recommended that firms that had applied for permission import up to 50% of their production capacity in PET Flakes/Bottles. Polyethylene Terephthalate bottles are a type of plastic that is already recycled in nearly 90 percent of the domestic supply. This reprieve, however, has not gone down well with environmentalists.

However, on Wednesday, the Union Commerce Ministry's Directorate General of Foreign Trade convened a consultative meeting with representatives from the Union Environment Ministry and environmentalist organization Pandit Deendayal Upadhyay Smriti Manch (PDUSM), companies that had requested permission to import plastic waste, and the Plastic Export Promotional Council.

Seven Indian companies have applied to import 93,000 tonnes of plastic bottle waste from countries such as the United States, Canada, and Germany in 2021, citing a plastic waste shortage in India. "More than 465 crore discarded PET bottles of mineral water, cold drink, and juice consumed in these countries could be imported into our country (1 bottle – 20gms)," according to a statement from the PDUSM.

The PDUSM's campaign against the import of plastic waste influenced the Centre's decision to impose a ban in 2019.

"In India, there is no shortage of PET waste." According to industry data, more than 14 lakh tonnes of PET plastic are consumed annually in India, and despite the world's highest recycling rate of 80%, approximately 2.8 lakh tonnes of plastic bottle waste never get collected. While the rest of the world is prohibiting such imports in order to strengthen local plastic waste management, India would have been the first to re-allow the import of plastic waste," PDUSM President Vinod Shukla told. Before importing waste from other countries to make textiles/recycled products, our country's waste must first be recycled."

He stated that he had already made plans to connect Indian companies that would supply PET bottles to recyclers.

A senior official in the Union Environment Ministry, who did not want to be identified, told The Hindu that the import ban would not be lifted in its entirety. "The import was only allowed for PET bottles to be used for Recycled Polyester Staple Fibre and yarn." Domestic capacity is currently limited, and without imports, these businesses will suffer. As a result, we made a balanced decision, taking into account all stakeholders."

From 2017 to 2018, the influx of PET bottles reportedly quadrupled, with Indian firms importing plastic scraps from China, Italy, Japan, and Malawi for recycling. India consumes approximately 13 million tonnes of plastic and recycles approximately 4 million tonnes.

The government banned the import of plastic waste, particularly PET bottles, in 2015 to encourage domestic plastic recycling units. An amendment passed in 2016 allowing such imports as long as they were carried out by agencies located in SEZs. This was prohibited in 2019.

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