• Plastic

Overview of Plastic Industry :

The Indian economy has been one of the few growing admirably over the past few years despite challenging times. Indian Plastics Industry is one of the key economic growth drivers of the country, which has proved its ability to deliver growth and contribute to the Indian Economy consistently. The Plastics Industry is making a significant contribution to the economic development and growth of various key sectors in the country such as automotive, construction, electronics, healthcare, textiles and FMCG.

The plastic industry has grown at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10%, in volume terms, from 8.33 million metric tonnes per annum (MMTPA) in FY 10 to 13.4 MMTPA in FY 15.

As per the PlastIndia Foundation report, it is expected to grow at 10.5% from FY 15 to FY 20 to reach at 22 MMTPA. This growth would be further impelled by various government initiatives, such as Make in India, Skill India, Digital India, and the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.

In the global scenario, India is among the top 10 global consumers of plastic, awareness of its recyclable benefits remains relatively low. The increasing use of this versatile material generates more than 15,000 tonnes of plastic waste every day, out of which 6,000 tonnes remain littered.

While India’s average per capita consumption of plastic is about 11 kg, which is considerably low as compared to the global average of 28 kg. This is further brought into perspective with a special emphasis on the US where consumption is nearly ten times. An estimate by the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, Government of India suggests that the annual per capita consumption in India would be 20 kg by 2022.

In the coming years, world plastic production and consumption would increase considerably. This will lead to large amounts of plastic waste generation and related GHG emissions by 2050 as per the World Economic Forum. WEF also stated that owing to the dependence on petroleum feedstocks, oil consumption will have increased threefold and the carbon budget would register an increase from 1% to 15%.

As per the WEF report indicates that 60% of the total plastic waste is being recycled. The major challenge, however, is segregation and re-aggregation of plastic waste streams such as packaging waste, including laminated plastic. Although recycling is one of the preferred ways to deal with plastic waste in the waste hierarchy, the concern is the heterogeneous properties of unsegregated and littered waste that remains scattered in the urban landscape. These result in an unpleasant landscape, choking of drains, and release of GHGs from landfills at times leading to a fire.

The major components of plastic waste (in terms of tonnage) have been expressed in Table 1.

Table 1: Major components of plastic waste with their applications

Plastic Application
Polyethene terephthalate (PET) Water and soft drink bottles, food jar
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) Cables, plumbing pipes
High-density polyethene (HDPE) Shampoo bottles, packaging
Low-density polyethene (LDPE) Grocery bags, packaging
Polypropylene (PP) Bottle caps, medicine bottles, chips packs
Polystyrene (PS) Disposal cups, cutlery, packaging foam
Polycarbonate (PC) Food packaging, electronic goods, and Food packaging, electronic goods, and defence gadgets
Nylon Fishing nets, clothing, ropes

The research and policy fraternity is constantly exploring opportunities to address these problems. Some existing options are:
One of the sustainable alternatives that could be considered to deal with plastic waste is to develop bio-based and biodegradable plastic which utilize starch, cellulose, and polylactic acid as raw materials for short-term use products. However, these are more expensive and are presently at a lab-scale, which needs to be upscale. Possible incentive/subsidy-based strategies for product development and research would assist
in facilitating this upscale. This, in turn, would increase their usage and enhance the market for these products.

Applications of bio-based products extend from the manufacturing of green packaging, disposable cutlery, agricultural mulch films, and manufacturing of superabsorbent materials, that can be used for a sustained release of pesticide/fertilizer in the agricultural sector. Further, these can also be used as eco-friendly alternatives for the removal of toxic dyes and heavy-metal contaminants from water bodies.

Recycling of plastics is considered the next viable.

Recycling of plastics is considered the next viable and technically feasible option to tackle plastic waste. The approach utilizes several technologies to produce a second supply chain of raw materials. Recovery of secondary raw materials through recycling is given the highest priority after reuse, according to the waste hierarchy. Recycling options are generally classified into primary and secondary recycling, while tertiary recycling is preferred for multilayered plastics (MLPs) where separating individual layers is difficult and expensive. Recycling requires participation from the public and, therefore, needs citizens to perform separation of waste materials at the source.

Another potential use of plastic is to generate fuel from waste plastics. The current energy
requirements are predominantly met using fossil fuels. Converting waste plastics to fuel is beneficial as it not only allows for waste plastic to be disposed of but also presents the opportunity of developing an alternative to fossil fuel. However, this is still at the research stage. Studies reveal that presently, the ‘methane number’ of pyrolysis gases is below 65 which is less than the minimum requirement as per the standard for the EU and USA.

Non-recyclable plastic waste finds its application in the co-processing of plastic waste in cement kilns. This refers to the use of wastes in industrial processes from which the energy and material form is recovered. Plastic waste is also integrated with bitumen for laying roads. The process of laying roads by utilizing this technique has been well established for the advantages it offers. The approach utilizes several technologies to produce a second supply chain of raw materials.

Recovery of secondary raw materials through recycling is given the highest priority after reuse, according to the waste hierarchy. Recycling options are generally classified into primary and secondary recycling, while tertiary recycling is preferred for multilayered plastics (MLPs) where separating individual layers is difficult and expensive. Recycling requires participation from the public and, therefore, needs citizens to perform separation of waste materials at the source.

Another potential use of plastic is to generate fuel from waste plastics. The current energy requirements are predominantly met using fossil fuels. Converting waste plastics to fuel is beneficial as it not only allows for waste plastic to be disposed of but also presents the opportunity of developing an alternative to fossil fuel. However, this is still at the research stage. Studies reveal that presently, the ‘methane number’ of pyrolysis gases is below 65 which is less than the minimum requirement as per the standard for the EU and USA.

Non-recyclable plastic waste finds its application in the co-processing of plastic waste in cement kilns. This refers to the use of wastes in industrial processes from which the energy and material form is recovered.

Plastic waste is also integrated with bitumen for laying roads. The process of laying roads by utilizing this technique has been well established for the advantages it offers.