Plastic Waste Management in India with special emphasis on multilayered packaging

Gayathri Gireesh* & Balabadruni Naga Satwik**



Plastic waste is defined as any plastic discarded  after its intended use [1]The concept of Plastic Wastage Management (hereafter PWM) aims to manage the plastic waste from its production to the final disposal which includes, collection, storage, transportation, reduction, reuse, recovery, recycling, composting or disposal of plastic waste in an environmentally safe manner.[2] In India, Plastic Waste Management is done as per the provisions of Plastic Waste Management (PWM) Rules 2016 and its amendments notified by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) under the powers conferred by the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.[3]


On the 30th of October, 2023, the MoEFC issued a significant notification introducing amendments to the PWM Rules, 2016, intending to strengthen the effective implementation of rules and improve environmental practices in PWM. The 2023 amendment has been made specifically to deal with all kinds of plastic packaging and multi-layered packaging.[5] The core idea of this amendment is redefining multilayered packaging, its usage, recycling, reuse and disposal. Along with this, various provisions have been made to make the plastic packaging industry more accountable from production to disposal. The notable features with respect to multilayered packaging is as follows:

  • As the PWM rules vary from country to country, exporting manufacturers may face challenges in manufacturing accordingly, Rule 2 on “Application” of these rules has been revised, inserting a provision that says that Rule 9 Sub-rule (1) of the Plastic Waste Amendment rules 2016, will not apply to export-oriented units or units in special economic zones, with exceptions for pre-consumer plastic packaging waste. For the same issue notably, sub-rule (3) under rule 2 excludes export-oriented units and special economic zones from the provisions of rule 9 (1), with an exception for pre-consumer plastic packaging waste.
  • Additionally, pre-consumer plastic packaging waste produced by the unit’s packaging for export in a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in India would not be subject to the same rules as a company operating domestically. This could mean that the SEZ company could use a type of plastic banned in India, but accepted in the country they are exporting to.
  • The term “multi-layered packaging” has changed to “plastic packaging” in various sections. The definition of “producer” now covers individuals engaged in the manufacture of plastic packaging. To avoid challenges in, recycling and environmental protection, in rule 9 (6), “multilayered packaging” is replaced with “plastic packaging”

The change in definition from “multi-layered packaging” to “plastic packaging” means that a wider range of products, such as single-use plastic bags, and food packets, tetra packs, any packing or bio-degradable material that have any layers of plastic are now included under the rules. This could potentially increase the responsibility of producers and lead to better recycling practices. For instance, “Amazon” is a leading e-commerce platform that adopted paper-based or cardboard-based packing wherever possible to avoid multilayer packaging.[6] Also a lot of e-commerce and shipping companies have started using shredded cardboard and paper as cushioning material instead of Styrofoam, or plastic.

In 2023, the market for shredded paper filling is estimated to reach a market value of $2.49 billion, and by 2033 and is estimated to reach a market value of $5.2 billion, growing at a 7.6% CAGR. The multilayer packing companies label plastic alternatives with bio-degradable which have layers or layers of plastic in them. The companies can no longer label products as bio-degradable if they contain layers of plastic. For example, a company producing bio-degradable coffee cups with a thin layer of plastic would need to change their packaging or labelling under this rule.

Category V is specifically been made for biodegradable plastics. The new inclusion provided clarity for both consumers and manufacturers. Biodegradable plastics, break down naturally without needing industrial composting facilities. Biodegradable plastics are recommended for packets like gutkha and pan-masala as they generally have high sales. The definition[7] is refined to include bags made from plastic, compostable plastic, or biodegradable plastic for carrying or dispensing commodities. This new category could lead to clearer labelling of products. For example, a package of e-commerce shipment could be labelled as biodegradable, giving consumers more information about the environmental impact of their purchase.

Rule 11 (1) relating to “Marking or labelling” has been substituted and now mandates specific information like name and registration number or manufacturer on plastic packaging, with various dates for compliance, depending on the type of packaging. This rule could lead to more transparency in the packaging industry.

The following are exempt from this provision:

  • plastic packaging covered by Legal Metrology Packaged Commodities Rules, 2011 Rule 26.
  • plastic packaging cases where printing the necessary information, by the guidelines provided in the Guidelines for use of Standard Mark, labelling requirements under BIS Compulsory Registration Scheme for Electronic and IT Products, are not technically possible.

Amendments are made to Rule 12 related to the authority’s duty to enforce these rules to provide  specific information on plastic packaging, including name and registration certificate number for producers or importer as these details must be traceable. This rule could lead to better enforcement of the rules. For example, a company failing to comply with the rules could be easily identified through the centralized online portal and held accountable.

The registration procedure for manufacturers, importers, and recyclers of plastic trash is described in Rule 13. Adhering to environmental legislation including the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act and the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, new registration and consent standards have been implemented. This rule aligns the registration process with other environmental laws. This could lead to a more streamlined process for companies and better enforcement of the rules. For example, a company making crackers may need to address the air, water and land pollution concerns.

Paragraph 15-A has been added in the Schedule on “Purchase of extended producer responsibility certificate from different categories”. The acquisition can only be approved by the Central Pollution Control Board (or “CPCB”). Categories are eligible to purchase goods when there is a surplus and above their extended producer responsibility duty to satisfy their obligation in cases when a shortfall occurs. After 2025–2026, the terms of paragraph 15–A will no longer be applicable.

Certifications: Manufacturers of compostable and biodegradable plastic carry bags and commodities must obtain a certificate from the Certification from the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) before marketing or selling their products. This requirement ensures that these materials meet the necessary standards and do not harm the environment. A State Level Monitoring Committee is introduced to ensure effective rule implementation, consisting of various government and industry representatives. Now, imagine another company that used to purchase plastic from an unregistered entity to avoid the rules, now with the new restrictions, they are required to deal with only registered entities. A manufacturer of compostable plastic bags would need to obtain certification from the CPCB before they could sell their bags, ensuring that the bags meet environmental standards.

The introduction of the State-Level Monitoring Committee could lead to more effective rule implementation. For example, the committee could identify areas where the rules are not being properly enforced and take action to improve compliance. Lastly, by specifying the authorities responsible for enforcing the rules, there could be less confusion and more accountability in the enforcement process.

Challenges addressed in the plastic waste recycling process:

There are various challenges while dealing with recycling plastic waste and some of them are listed below:

  1. Flexible multi-layered plastic packaging is hard to recycle: Flexible multi-layered plastic packaging like sachets of shampoo, oils, creams, gutkha, etc. are hard to recycle because layers of different materials are hard to separate and generally are all chemically different and can’t be chemically recycled.[8]
  2. Structural Problems: Plastic waste can be managed in three ways namely, upcycling, recycling and downcycling. In upcycling the plastic waste is transformed into products that are more useful like stitching discarded plastic pieces into bag covers, etc. In recycling, the product created ordinarily is of the same quality and value, as recycling use the bottles into usable water bottles. In down cycling, the plastic waste is transformed into some products that have low quality and value. One of the major problems faced in plastic waste processing is recycling and downcycling, where often the end product is something that is of poor quality compared to the original high-plastic product.
  • Can create microplastics: Plastic wastes, most of the time owing to friction and careless handling breaks down into minute pieces called microplastics which are non-recyclable and cause serious environmental & health hazards. Microplastics are generally used by the plastic industry and are neither helpful in recovery nor for reusing.


Microplastics are tiny plastic particles up to 5mm in diameter.[9] These small bits & pieces of plastic are the one of most ominous parts of plastic waste pollution. Owing to the small size of these plastics, they are not recyclable and incapable of being reused which makes disposal of these plastics highly contentious. According to a study it is estimated that, on average, every square kilometer of the world’s oceans has 63,320 microplastic particles floating at the surface, with significant regional variations–for example, concentrations in East Asian seas are 27 times higher.[10] These microplastics are harmful to environment, animal & human health.

Plastics currently are developed by petrochemical resources i.e. fossil fuels which not only pollute our environment but also are exponentially reducing our natural resources. Most common petrochemical-derived polymers such as polyethylene and polypropylene take many years to break down in the environment. These typically do not contain chemical groups and can never be used as ‘breakpoints’ for chemical or biological degradation and in many cases are even water resistant.[11] The breakdown of these Petro-chemical produced plastics leads to the creation of microplastics.

Microplastics are produced in two ways:

  1. Primary Microplastic: These are the small pieces of plastic that are created for specific product needs. For instance, microplastics are commonly used in the textile and cosmetic industries.
  2. Secondary Microplastics: These microplastics are from the disintegration of plastic materials. This disintegration is usually caused by environmental factors like sunlight, gusty winds, etc. Growing evidence suggests that fibers from synthetic fabrics are a significant source of secondary microplastics commonly found in wastewater and the aquatic environment.[12]

These microplastics are one of the major sources of water body pollution and in the past few years have been one of the prime reasons for the endangerment of aquatic life. Experiments show that more than 1,900 microplastic fibers are released from a single synthetic garment in just one wash by a laundry machine.[13] Owing to their micro size, they are almost undetectable and easily pass through water treatment machinery currently utilized worldwide. Apart from polluting marine life, this microplastic is also responsible for high methane emission which contributes to the greenhouse gases (GHG). This problem was recognized and tried to be dealt with at an international level in 2017 by the U.N. Draft Resolution on Marine Litter and Microplastic (proposed by Japan) which was being signed by nearly 200 countries in Nairobi but the draft never came into existence and remains in the pipeline.


 Carbon footprint refers to the process of tracing aggregate carbon emissions happening due to certain activities undertaken by humans. Since the past few decades, the carbon footprint generated out of plastic usage has been on an exponential upsurge, almost doubled reaching GtCO2-equivalent (CO2e) in 2015, accounting for 4.5% of global GHG emissions.[14] The carbon footprint of plastic arises not only after the plastic is disposed of but also in the formation stage of plastic. This carbon footprint increase can be attributed to the incessant use of fossil fuels as a raw material to make plastic materials. According to World Economic Forum, today about 4-8% of annual global oil consumption is associated with plastics which is expected to rise as high as 20% (nearly 53 Giga tons) by 2050.[15]

The carbon emission from plastic usage can be typically classified into three stages:

Stage 1: Extraction & Transport:

They involve two kinds of carbon emission at this stage.

  • Direct Carbon emission: Occurs while the raw material is being extracted. For instance, by methane leakages, flaring etc.
  • Emission from fuel combustion: The energy consumption in the process of drilling for oil or gas, and emissions caused by land disturbance when forests and fields are cleared for well pads and pipelines lead to carbon emission.[16]

Stage 2: Refining & Manufacture:

  • The extracted raw material is refined in a refinery which uses various methods of combustion to extract ethane & propane. These extracted carbon particles are then treated at high temperatures to transform them into monomers called ethylene & propylene.
  • These monomers are then reacted with a catalyst agent to create polymers. These polymers are formed in the form of small plastic pellets which are then remolded by each industry for their use.
  • During this entire process of refining and combustion is responsible for GHG emission. Globally in 2015, emissions from the process of converting monomer to polymer to produce ethylene were 184.3–213.0 million metric tons of CO2, as much as 45 million passenger vehicles driven for one year.[17]

Stage 3: Plastic Disposal:

  • The existing structure dealing with the disposal of plastic is deeply embedded with carbon emissions. The plastic that is collected often ends up in landfills where plastic decomposes slowly and emits various harmful gases.
  • Even recycling has a moderate emissions profile.


In India on average, urban local bodies spend Rupees 500-1,500 per ton of waste in ‘tipping fees’ for collecting, transporting, treating, and disposing of waste in dump sites.[18] In a study, it was found that recovering recyclables and using landfills are the least expensive ways to handle wastes.  This system is likely to cost $19 (Rupees 1400) per ton, whereas incineration would cost nearly double, $36-38 (Rupees 2800 per ton). [19]The light weight of plastic pet bottles is an advantage in logistics as the glass bottles weigh 40% more and increase fuel consumption, showing plastic is much more sustainable when we look closely. [20]

Analyzing the ground realities, it becomes crystal clear that recycling and processing of waste is the most viable method to get rid of plastic waste but when it comes to economic viability then it loses profitability and thus, is not one of the investments attracting sector. This poor economic viability coupled with a lack of political hampers the future of the recycling industry. Although landfills are seen as one of the most cost-efficient options to get rid of plastic waste the major drawback lies in the environmental efficiency which is abysmally poor.

Calculations show that Delhi’s three landfills at Okhla, Bhalswa, and Ghazipur are collectively responsible for environmental damage worth Rs. 450 crores (Rs. 4.5 billion) as per a 2018 study by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), CPCB, and the Indian Institute of Technology-Delhi.[21]


The alternatives to plastics can be bioplastics which are made up of natural resources like grass, corn sugar cane, tapioca etc. These bioplastics are biodegradable and can be easily broken down by microorganisms hence, are environmentally benign and bio-based plastics replace petrochemical plastics up to 90%, demonstrating the enormous potential of bio-based plastics.

The idea of sustainable plastic aims to make plastic more sustainable from using more renewable content and reclaiming and recycling material, to reducing energy needed for manufacturing and returning material to nature at the end of its life.[22] Switching to sustainable plastics will reduce GHG emissions, decompose faster and solve the problem of microplastics. Interestingly people are getting more and more inclined towards sustainable products and alternative to plastics.



*Gayathri Gireesh, Consultant, Advocate, CEERA-NLSIU, Bangalore

**Balabadruni Naga Satwik, Judicial Clerk, High Court of Andhra Pradesh

[1] PWM Rules, 2016, Rule 2(q).

[2] Id. at Rule 2(y).

[3] The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, S.6, 8, 25.

[4] Editor6, Plastic Waste Management (Second Amendment) Rules, 2023, (October 20, 2023) Plastic Waste Management (Second Amendment) Rules, 2023 (

[5] Kriti, MoEF revises definition of ‘Carry Bags’ to include Biodegradable Plastic bags (November 01, 2023)

[6] Sean riley, Amazon Eliminates Plastic at Fulfillment Center,  (October 19, 2023)

[7] in Rule 3 on alterations to definitions

[8] Clare Goldsberry, Benefits & Challenges of flexible packaging debated at SPE Conference’  (June  04, 2022)

[9] United Nations Environment Programme, Microplastic, (Nov 04, 2023),

[10] UNEP, Microplastics: Trouble in Food Chain , (Oct 04, 2023)

[11] Chemical Science & Society Summit, Science to enable sustainable plastics (Oct  04, 2023)

[12] UNEP, ‘Microplastics: Trouble in Food Chain, (Nov 10, 2023)

[13] Ibid.

[14] Livia Cabernard et al, Growing environmental footprints of plastics driven by coal combustion, Nature Sustainability,( Jan 05 2024)

[15] Lisa Anne Hamilton  et al, Plastic & Climate: Hidden Cost of Plastic Planet, Centre for International Environmental Law, (June 05, 2022)

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Department of Economics Affair, Position Paper on Solid waste management sector in India, Government of India, November 2009, (June 05, 2022)

[19] Anusha Krishnan, The Cost of Plastic Waste, Mongabay, (Jan 8, 2024)

[20] Richard Gray, How much would it cost to switch to plastic alternatives?, BBC Work Life, (Jan 08, 2024)

[21] Anusha Krishnan, ‘The Cost of Plastic Waste’, Mongabay, (30 December 2023),

[22] ‘Creating sustainable plastics: Without sacrificing quality or cost, Greendot (June 06, 2022)

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