TO SAY that the Union ministry of environment, forest and climate change’s (MOEFCC) draft of the Uniform Framework for Extended Producer’s Responsibility (EPR) for plastic waste is full of glaring omissions would, undoubtedly, be a gross understatement. Though this document was released in June this year in the midst of the pandemic, there is a glaring COVID-19 blindspot as the document does not factor in the current challenges. There is no mention of shortage of waste pickers to collect personal protective equipment (PPE) and mixed waste discarded by households containing hazardous biowaste—used masks, gloves and other cleaning materials being used by people at home. This can infect the waste picker resulting in sickness, sudden medical expenses and in extreme situations, death.
In most countries, workers engaged in hazardous occupations are covered by a host of welfare programmes, which provide them with benefits that include medical insurance and adequate work gear. In India, however, waste workers are not provided with any type of PPE by civic authorities or contractors. Many waste workers have not even received their wages for the past few months. However, since there is no grievance redressal system available to them, they continue to work in the fear of losing out on their past earnings.
Moreover, during the lockdown periods, the waste dealer shops were shut down as these businesses do not appear in the list of “essential services”. This breaks down the reverse logistics process as the recyclable waste materials cannot be redeemed for cash by the waste pickers.
The draft document proposes a web portal to implement the monitoring of the EPR mechanism by the Central Pollution Control Board. The portal is supposed to be a single registration point for all stakeholders across the country with details of the main stakeholders involved in the waste value chain—collectors, assemblers and recyclers. But the draft conveniently ignores the fact that waste collection and recycling has always been done by the informal sector.
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