CK Mishra: Innovation can be a powerful solution for plastic waste in India

CK Mishra, secretary, ministry of environment, forest and climate change, government of India spoke about sustainability at the 8th Speciality Films & Flexible Packaging Global Summit in Mumbai. He said, "My ministry wants to be known as a development partner, and not the one which blocks things. We hope the Indian plastic industry comes up with packaging alternatives."

23 Aug 2019 | By WhatPackaging? Team

CK Mishra, secretary, ministry of environment, forest and climate change, government of India

At the outset, CK Mishra said, "I have been feeling that over the last one year, the ministry has not been communicating enough. And we need to communicate far more and at multiple levels. That is one of the major reasons I thought I'll be here. We want to share our thoughts with you and also understand what is transpiring in the industry."

He mentioned how technology innovation is one of the powerful solutions for countries like India to address the issue of plastic waste. He said, there has been progress on collaborative R&D and innovation, but challenges exist in accessing technology due to high investment costs and intellectual property issues. He felt, "such an issue could be resolved only if all the stakeholders could continuously discuss the issues, together. It's extremely doable and eminently doable in our country. That is provided each one of us understand what our contribution is going to be."

He said, "There is a focus on the word: sustainability. But unfortunately, many of us interpret the term, sustainability, the way we would like it to be interpreted. Sustainability cannot have different definitions, it has to have only one definition. And all of us need to agree about that common definition."

He complimented the industry leaders, There is industry growth, what with the chemical industry being the sixth largest producer in the world, and flexible packaging being one of the fast growing segments with a CAGR of 16%." But he had a word of caution, "Growth has introduced problems. Today our per capita consumption is low at 4.3 kg as compared to Germany and UK. If India is to become a USD 5 trillion economy, then plastic consumption is not going to go down, it is going to go up."

His word of caution was: as the economy grows, waste will grow.

He said, "Therefore, we need to put our heads together to decide how this growth story will be written? How do we work out a solution by which that does not create a problem. But that becomes a wealth for us.

Mishra felt there is an opportunity in converting plastic waste into resource.

He said, the raging debate in various forums is about growth versus environment or ecology versus economy. This, according to him,  is a non starter. He said, it's about how we do both things, together.

He said, "Of course, India has its development imperatives. And we will continue to fulfil the development aspirations of the Indian people. But while we do so, we need to be extremely  responsible. As a responsible nation, we will try and see what is the best possible way of doing it. For this, first and foremost, we need to acknowledge the problem that global warming is for real and climate change is for real."

CK Mishra felt there was a segment of the industry which was still in a denial mode. He extolled the industry to get out of that denial mode. He said, "Unless we acknowledge the problem, we will never be able to find a solution to the problem. And the solution lies with the industry. You are the ones who will provide the government with a solution whereby the government can help you implement it."

His message was: India is one of the fastest growing economy. Which is why, fingers will be pointed every time we contribute negatively to any aspect of the climate change. Therefore, we need to be far more careful than the rest of the globe."

He repeated that plastics is not a bad thing.  In fact it's an extremely good thing, but the moment plastic waste goes into the earth or the sea, it's a bad thing. So the idea is how do we prevent it from going there, rather than how do we prevent it from being used."

It is in this sense, that PM Modi has renewed his appeal to the people, in his Independence Day speech, to make India free of one time use plastics. "In response to the Prime Minister's call on India’s 73rd Independence day, to make India free of single use plastics, a massive public campaign will be launched engaging all stakeholders. In this regard a series of meetings will be held with all stakeholders including industry leaders and scientists to chalk out a concrete plan to make it a people's campaign to realise the ultimate target."

Secretary Mishra said, India has made a global and domestic commitment to the environment. He said, "it's based on the confidence that the Indian industry will rise to the occasion and help us achieve this. And therefore, I keep saying that we need to work out a joint strategy."

He concluded his 22 minute address by stating, "We have been known as a ministry that blocks things, but I want to say it loud and clear that we would love to be known not as a regulating ministry but as a development partner. Our job is to help the industry. We are willing to create a platform where there's space for every single voice, where everyone can be heard so that we find a solution. I hope we find a magic pill during this conference which will help us move forward."

CK Mishra's mantras for sustainability

  •  There are challenges concerning plastic waste in India. Ignorance is no more bliss! Need clear definition, better implementation of plastic waste rules, awareness and viable alternatives.
  • What is the future of EPR. Now EPR has been invoked since 2016; but not yet implemented. We need segregation mechanisms and collection systems plus a shift in behavioural usage
  • If a company has done a good thing for green production which can be replicated, then we need others to take up that best practice and implement it
  • Over-dependence on import of technology and technology barriers are a burning issue. What are the investments in R&D of multi-layer packaging. There is a cost to a better life. If plastic is a problem, and removal of plastic has a cost, then it will have to be borne.
  • Let us explore alternatives. Unless we have alternatives in place, reduction is not possible. Every year there should be a minimum of two alternatives in two sectors
  • The ministry invites individuals to share their success stories and efforts made for environment conservation in their areas. Stories and case studies can be uploaded and viewed on the official site of the ministry.
  • Sharp results don't come from blunt weapons. And so, at times, sharp weapons will have to be used. It may be painful, but there is no option before the country. Let us prepare for that.