India bans plastic waste imports, slaps Volkswagen with hefty fine

INDIA—A series of tweets by India’s Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change on March 6 announced a ban on plastic waste imports and scrap. Volkswagen India, meanwhile, was reportedly hit with a Rs. 5 billion ($71 million) fine by an environmental court for emissions violations. The German automaker will challenge the fine, according to CNBC. 

Plastic Imports Ban

            Foreign countries will no longer be able to ship their plastic waste or scrap to India. The mandate is part of India’s effort to combat plastic pollution.

            “Taking India’s commitment to fight against plastic pollution further, India bans import of solid plastic waste/scrap into the country,” the Environmental Ministry stated on its Twitter page (@MoEF&CC).

            “Now ban on import of plastic waste includes SEZ and EOUs,” the Tweet continued.

            “SEZ” is a special economic zone, while EOU is Export Oriented Units. The United Kingdom reportedly used the SEZ and EOU exemptions to export its plastic waste to India.

            India’s ban on plastic waste imports comes on the heels of a similar move by China in 2018.

            SEZs and EOUs allowed local businesses and governments to bypass a general ban on plastic imports, mostly for provisional purposes or resource procurement.

            The ban, which updates India’s Hazardous Waste Rules, went into effect on March 1.

            India’s Environment Ministry did Tweet out a few exemptions to the plastic waste import ban.

            “Silk waste exports exempted from requiring permission from Environment Ministry! Boosting Make in India initiative, electrical and electronic assemblies/components if manufactured in and exported from India, do not require permission from Environment Ministry for import of their defective items,” the ministry tweeted.

            Various news reports indicated India plans to phase out single-use plastics, in entirety, by 2022.

            South, East and Southeast Asia has been a dumping ground for plastic waste exports from countries such as the United States, United Kingdom, Germany and Japan. Countries such as Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam experienced a dramatic increase in plastic waste imports when China banned the activity last year.

            Will India’s ban on plastic waste imports result in countries shipping their scraps elsewhere? Or will those plastic waste exporters start reducing their respective reliance on plastics?

Volkswagen India

            India’s National Green Tribunal has reportedly fined Volkswagen India with a $71 million fine, which equates to about 5 billion rupees. The fine was imposed upon the German automaker for violating India’s emission mandates.

            Volkswagen was accused of skirting local pollution standards; the automaker reportedly recalled more than 300,000 vehicles in India as a result.

            An appeal of the tribunal decision to India’s Supreme Court could be in the works, according to news reports.