P-squads for green mission

Govt set to constitute special enforcement teams to implement the plastic ban across the state
P-squads for  green mission

KOCHI: Local bodies across Kerala have been struggling to implement the Union environment ministry’s ban on single-use plastics (SUPs). Even after five months since the ban came into effect, the plastic menace remains rampant in most parts of the state.

In view of ecological concerns, the environment ministry issued strict orders banning the manufacture, sale and use of 19 identified SUP items such as polybags, plates, cups, straws, and trays in July. The lack of effective strategy, however, has hampered efforts to root out the plastic menace.

According to official estimates, Kerala generates 10,504 tonnes per day (TPD) of solid waste. Of this, 3,472 tonnes come from urban local governments and 7,032 from grama panchayats.Notably, despite green initiatives and drives, the state generates over 590 tonnes of plastic waste every day. It is learned that 49 per cent of the waste is generated in households, 36 per cent in institutions and 15 per cent in public places.

In 2019-20 and 2020-21, Clean Kerala Company collected e-waste of 173 tonnes and 77 tonnes, respectively. Of the total waste generated, 77 per cent (6,410 TPD) is biodegradable, 18 per cent is non-biodegradable, and 5 per cent is inert waste.

Though the state claims to have scaled up the collection of plastic waste, activists say the local bodies have been floundering in implementing effective enforcement strategies. With pressure mounting from the Central Pollution Control Board to effectively enforce the ban, the state government has decided to constitute special enforcement teams in every district. These teams would consist of members from the state Pollution Control Board (PCB), Suchitwa Mission, local bodies, and the police.

“There is huge pressure from the Centre,” says a senior PCB official. “We have weekly review meetings with the Central PCB. The ban is yet to be fully enforced here. Manpower shortage is a major issue. Many local bodies have been unable to prioritise the plastic ban. So the state government has decided to constitute special squads to enforce the ban. Banned plastic is still available in the market and we need an effective enforcement mechanism. Multiple squads will be deployed in huge local bodies.”

A Suchitwa Mission official concurs. “The government is likely to issue an order next week, specifying the responsibilities of the squads,” the official says. “These squads will work in coordination with the local bodies. Secretaries of the local bodies will take action and impose fines based on the reports by the squads.”

Recently, the Central PCB carried out special inspections at major cities across India. In Kerala, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram were hotspots that came under scrutiny.“The inspection teams, which included state PCB officials, local bodies and the police, focused on the eco-compliance of the products available in the market,” says a state PCB official.

“There are special QR codes for legal products. When we scan them, we get to know whether the manufacturers are registered or not. We collect samples if we have any doubts. We seized banned products during the inspections.”

Deployment of Haritha Karma Sena
In an effort to ensure the scientific management of non-biodegradable waste, the government has deployed 30,830 Haritha Karma Sena members across the state. Haritha Kerala Mission officials say Sena members cover 54 per cent of the total 85 lakh households in the state.

In November, the Haritha Karma Sena collected around 4,940 tonnes of non-biodegradable waste from households. “The Sena members get a minimum of Rs 10,000 as pay every month. There are members who get up to Rs 25,000 a month,” says a Haritha Kerala Mission official.

Currently, the Haritha Karma Sena hands over the collected non-biodegradable waste to the Clean Kerala Company, an agency under the local self-government department.

“In November, there was at least a 10 per cent increase in the collection of plastic waste,” notes a Clean Kerala official. “We have divided every district into four sectors, and have deployed four officers in charge of each district to ensure proper coordination. The quantity of collection is expected to go up in the coming months.”

Onus on manufacturers
The PCB has, meanwhile, initiated efforts to introduce an extended producers’ responsibility (EPR) system in the state. Under this system, the onus of recycling would lie with the manufacturers.

“We do not have big brands in Kerala, and many have been apprehensive about getting the registration. More than 200 plastic goods producers are yet to get EPR registration,” says an official.

“So far, about 150 manufacturers, brand owners and recyclers have registered under the EPR system. We are in talks and hoping to increase registration. This is one of the key steps to reducing plastic pollution. As per the EPR norms, the polluters will have to pay for or ensure end-to-end recycling of the plastic generated by them.”

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The New Indian Express