Waste Management Laws in India: Plastic & Biomedical Wastes

INTRODUCTION

The protection of the environment has been a top priority for the entire world ever since the Stockholm Environment Conference, in 1972. It was with great zeal that the environment was placed on a pedestal of priority, never before witnessed in human history. Initially, the focus was relatively on the preservation of the water, air, and land around us. However, over recent years, concerns for some other areas too have gained traction. These include safe disposal of Plastic waste and Bio-Medical waste.

As population in India is forecasted to experience an unprecedented growth from currently 1.31 billion to 1.65 billion by 2030 and the plastic industry, owing to its widespread use is bound to grow by leaps and bounds with an increase in population. Healthcare facilities have mushroomed in every nook and cranny of the country to cater to the never-ending queues of patients. These medical facilities produce all sorts of waste. These wastes are clubbed together and referred to by umbrella terms- biomedical wastes.

In this article, we shall explore and assess all aspects related to plastic and biomedical waste management and the development of sustainable alternatives to these wastes. Further, we shall also touch upon laws and policy initiatives taken in India.

PLASTIC WASTE MANAGEMENT

  • What is Plastic?

A wide range of synthetic or semi-synthetic polymerisation products are commonly known as plastics. Plastics can be of two categories:

  1. Recyclable plastics as known as thermosetting plastics. These include PET, HDPE, LDPE, PP, PVC, PS etc.
  2. Non-recyclable plastics as known as thermoset plastics. These consist of multilayer and laminated plastics, PUF, Bakelite, Melamine, Polycarbonate, Nylon among others. Non-recyclable plastics present harder challenge of disposal for the authorities to surmount.

LAWS RELATING TO PLASTIC WASTES

For addressing the problem of ever-increasing proportions of plastic waste production and in order to ensure that it gets managed properly and scientifically, the union government came up with Plastic Waste Management Rules in 2011 under the Environment Protection Act, 1986. These rules replaced the earlier Recycled Plastics Manufacture and Usage Rules, 1999 that was amended in 2003.

These rules remedied the problem of quality of carry-bags by providing floor standards for thickness and requiring the retailers to charge a fee for each plastic bag utilised by the customers.                                                   

  • Salient features of the these rules include:                                                             
    • ban on plastics in sachets for storing, packing or selling tobacco, pan masala and gutkha,
    • no food to be allowed in packets of recycled plastics or compostable plastics,
    • specific BIS standards for recycled carry bags,
    • colour as per BIS prescription, uniform thickness of plastic carry bags to be 40 microns and above.
    • The framework created through these rules proposed assignment of responsibilities for management of plastic waste on the urban local bodies (ULBs).
    • Moreover, a monitoring committee called “State Level Advisory Body” was to set up at state level to oversee the functioning of ULBs in this respect.

The rules of 2011 were succeeded by another set of rules known as the Plastic Waste Management Rules of 2016. These rules are way more comprehensive and seek to effectively address the concerns of plastic waste. These rules extend the focus of waste management to rural areas by imposing responsibility on gram panchayats to create awareness, ensure that no open burning of plastic takes place, and ensure segregation and channelization of such waste.10

Recently, the 2016 rules were further amended in 2018. Three major changes, inter alia, have been incorporated into these rules.

  • Firstly, the rules notify that under Section 9(3), the term ‘non-recyclable multilayered plastic’ has been substituted by ‘multilayered plastic which is non-recyclable or non-energy recoverable or with no alternate use’.
  • Secondly, Section 15 dealing with the pricing of carry bags has been omitted. The rule earlier required vendors, who made plastic bags available, to register with the respective urban local body and pay a fee of Rs. 48,000 annually.
  • Thirdly, the new rules attempt to establish a centralized registration system by mandating brand owners and producers operating in more than two states to register with the CPCB.

JUDICIAL RULINGS ON PLASTIC WASTE MANAGEMENT

1. Karuna Society For Animals v. Union of India

The Supreme Court was alarmed by the dangers of plastic waste not properly disposed of, but held:

“it is not for this Court to monitor the functioning of concerned authorities & local authorities to see that the areas of the local self-government are not polluted. Accordingly, we direct the Union of India and the State Governments to consider the prayers in the petitions and take all necessary steps in the matter in accordance with law by constituting committees consisting of competent persons who have got sufficient knowledge on the subject matter.

2. All India Plastic Industries Association v. Govt. of Delhi

The Bench directed the NCT Delhi government, Delhi Pollution Control Committee, and all public authorities/local bodies to “ensure that sale, storage and use of such plastic at the shops or otherwise is not permitted. If any person is found in possession or uses such plastic, shall be liable to pay Environmental compensation of Rs. 5000/- per default.”

BIO-MEDICAL WASTE MANAGEMENT

  • What is Bio-Medical Waste?

Bio-medical waste is a by-product of healthcare and includes sharps, non-sharps, bloods, body parts, chemicals, medical devices and radioactive materials. Bio-Medical Waste Management Rules, 2016 define it as something “generated during the diagnosis, treatment or immunisation of human beings or animals or research activities pertaining thereto or in the production or testing of biological or in health camps”.

LAWS RELATING TO BIO-MEDICAL WASTE MANAGEMENT

The world recognised the menace of bio-medical waste through the inclusion of bio-medical waste under the category of toxic and hazardous wastes under the Basel Convention.

The government of India framed and initiated the Bio-Medical Waste (Management and Handling) Rules in 1998 to control and check the proper management and disposal of Bio-Medical and Healthcare Wastes in India.

These Rules were further worked upon to produce the Bio-Medical Waste (Management and Handling) Rules in 2011. However, this legislation remained to be effectively implemented across hospitals – public and private, clinics, diagnostic centres, blood banks, etc., across the country.

Subsequently, Biomedical Waste Management Rules, 2016 were notified.

  • Salient features:
    • The prescribed authority for implementation of the provisions is the SPCB for the States.
    • Advisory Committee under chairmanship of health secretary are required to be formed in each state, with membership of representatives from government departments, SPCB, IMA, local bodies and NGOs.
    • Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has been entrusted with review of implementation of the rules on an annual basis.
    • Duties of the occupier of the institution generating bio-medical waste and that of operator of bio-medical waste treatment facility  have been clearly enunciated.
    • Bio-medical waste have to be treated separately from municipal solid waste.
    • The liability in case of damages to environment and/or public is imposed on the occupier of the facility producing bio-medical wastes or operator of biomedical waste treatment facility.
    • Site selection for Common Bio-Medical Waste Treatment and Disposal Facility is to be done after consultation with stakeholders by “the department in the business allocation of land assignment” in the State or Union Territory Government.
    • Regard must be had to the locational criteria and land requirement while choosing such a site.
    • Though the provision does not explicitly refer to any particular authority, District Magistrates are the “assigning authority” in most states (For instance, see Rules for Assignment of Land within Municipal and Corporation Areas, 1995 for Kerala).
    • New rules have brought vaccination, blood donation and surgical camps within its ambit.
    • Occupiers will not be allowed to establish on-site treatment and disposal facility if a CBWTF is located within a radius of seventy-five km.

JUDICIAL DECISIONS ON BIO-MEDICAL WASTE MANAGEMENT

1.  B. L. Wadehra v. Union of India

It was put forth before the Apex Court that this act of mismanaging bio-medical waste was a gross violation of rights guaranteed to citizens under Articles 21 and 48A, and 51A(g) of the Constitution. The Supreme Court, in view of appalling conditions, issued guidelines to the GoI, Government of the UT of Delhi, MCD, and NDMC to construct and install incinerators in all the government hospitals with fifty beds and above, and also ask the private hospitals to construct their incinerators. It also placed an obligation on CPCB and SPCB to send their inspection teams periodically to such areas. Thus, it gave paramount importance to the prescribed methods of handling and disposal.

2. Mahesh Dubey v. Chattisgarh Environment Conservation Board

The tribunal ordered the creation of a State Level Committee under the chairmanship of the Chief Secretary, Medical Health with a representative from SPCB to prepare a complete inventory of all the health care facilities in the state and then prepare an action plan for proper implementation of the 2016 Rules, and monitoring thereafter. However, it is worth noting that nowhere in the judgment was there any reference to the “Advisory Committee” as required under Rule 11, 2016 Rules. Thus, it can be concluded that the noble intentions of the tribunal members are undone if the judgments are not aligned with the existing rules.

CONCLUSION

In the entire journey of Indian laws on plastic as well as bio-medical waste, though one finds out some important contributions in form of regular updation of Rules in recent decades have been made, still, the effective output is missing. It was observed that the rules for the management of both plastic and bio-medical wastes have been amended periodically in order to incorporate the new approaches and techniques in line with the international environmental concerns. However, the same has been weakened to some extent by a lack of proper implementation mechanisms.

Apart from the above advances, one must also turn to international best practices to gain from the experience from other countries. Hospitals in Phillipines have approached healthcare waste management with proper care. They placed a premium on waste reduction at source by shifting to recyclable packaging from non-biodegradable Styrofoam. Not only have techniques of ‘reuse’ proved beneficial to the environment, but they have financial benefits also. A lot of waste has been found capable of recycling through proper waste segregation. Apart from the generation of awareness among patients and the training of hospital staff, rewarding the people for waste segregation efforts through a profit-sharing scheme of sale of hospital wastes has also helped.

REFERENCES

  1. https://dhr.gov.in/sites/default/files/Biomedical_Waste_Management_Rules_2016.pdf
  2. https://vikaspedia.in/energy/environment/waste-management/bio-medical-waste-management/bio-medical-waste-management-rules
  3. https://www.teamleaseregtech.com/resources/acts/article/73/environment-protection-act-1986-bio-medical-waste-management-rules-201/
  4. https://blog.ipleaders.in/biomedical-waste-management-rules-2016/
  5. https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3311161

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