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By  Natalie Kikken 7 December 2023 3 min read

Key points

  • Among the largest producers of polymers, India generates more plastic waste than any economy except the USA and European Union.
  • The National Circular Economy Roadmap for Reducing Plastic Waste in India explores how to reduce plastic waste going to landfill or polluting the environment.
  • The roadmap initiatives could increase recycling rates by up to two thirds, and decrease greenhouse emissions by 20-50 per cent.

India has a population of more than 1.4 billion and generates 26,000 tonnes of plastic waste – every day. This is the equivalent of approximately 26,000 small cars!

Currently, a large fraction of plastic waste in India goes to landfill or leaks into the environment. That’s why we’ve worked with leading Indian and Australian partners to produce a National Circular Economy Roadmap for Reducing Plastic Waste in India PDF (8 MB) PDF (340 KB).

Indian workers sorting plastic waste.

Circular economies: creating value from plastic waste

India recognises the scale and complexity of the plastic waste problem. It also understands how this plastic waste connects to global ocean plastic pollution and global warming concerns.

Plastic waste, when not properly managed, often ends up in oceans. There it adds to marine pollution, taking a heavy toll on marine life and ecosystems. Additionally, the production, disposal, and degradation of plastic releases greenhouse gases, contributing to global warming.

The roadmap shows us how to address this by increasing the circularity of plastic waste. We can increase its value through better design, reuse and recycling. Simultaneously, a circular economy approach can prevent plastic waste from polluting the environment. 

Reducing plastic waste by driving innovation 

The findings in the roadmap indicate that by 2035, two thirds of all plastics used could be recycled. Single-use plastics could be phased out.

The roadmap also shows that diverting plastic waste into resources would lead to a cleaner environment by improving air quality. Greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced by as much as 20-50 per cent.

India, like Australia, is aiming to reduce plastic waste by driving innovation. Adopting circular economy design, technologies, and business models will extend the use of plastic materials. It will also drive new industries and jobs in a zero plastic waste economy.

India only recycles 8 per cent of the 26,000 tonnes of plastic waste produced each day.

Seven strategies to support a circular economy

The roadmap lays out seven strategies, developed in consultation with industry, government and community: 

Circular design and production

Designing products and processes in a way that minimises waste and makes it easier to reuse or recycle materials. This supports a sustainable cycle of production and consumption.

Investment in infrastructure

Allocating resources towards building and enhancing facilities that support effective waste management. This includes recycling centres, collection systems, and advanced sorting technologies.

Improved recycling capability

Enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of recycling processes. This ensures that a greater proportion of plastic waste can be recovered, processed, and turned into usable materials.

Consistent compliance

Waste management practices that are environmentally responsible and sustainable. Industries, businesses and individuals must adhere to these environmental regulations and standards.

Commercial viability of technologies

Developing and implementing technologies for waste management and recycling that are not only environmentally effective but also economically feasible. This will encourage widespread adoption.

Uptake of secondary materials

Encouraging the use of materials that have been recycled and repurposed and making this option financially viable. This will support the market for recycled products.

Sustainable consumption

Adopting consumption habits that are environmentally friendly, such as choosing products with less packaging or those made from recycled materials. This could reduce the overall demand for new plastics.

Driving in the same lane to tackle plastic pollution

The roadmap is a result of three years of collaborative research between Indian and Australian partners.

We produced the Circular Economy Roadmap for Reducing Plastic Waste in India with The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI ), the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research-National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (CSIR-NEERI), Development Alternatives, the University of New South Wales and the University of Technology Sydney Institute for Sustainable Futures.

The roadmap development also included engagement with industry, government, and the community.

Working together on a global scale

The roadmap was produced as part of an Australia-India Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. It will support the Government of India and industry associations in responding to the requirements of the United Nations Global Plastics Treaty, which is expected to be implemented in 2024.

This research aligns to our Ending Plastic Waste Mission, which aims to change the way we make, use, recycle and dispose of plastic waste, and our Circular Economy for Missions initiative, which aims to embed circular economy principles across our research areas. 

Plastic waste is a global issue. It is only through a collaborative effort that we can tackle it. 

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