Sweden-backed study: India won't achieve 2030 UN goals, officials can't recognise SDG

India generated 3.2 million tonnes of e-waste last year, ranking third after China (10.1 million tonnes) and the US (6.9 million tonnes)

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Rajiv Shah/ Counterview

A Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (SSNC)-sponsored study, carried out by the advocacy group Consumer Unity & Trust Society (CUTS) India, seeking to analyse the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) No 12, Responsible Consumption and Production (RCP), has regretted, it is "very unlikely" India will achieve any of the targets of SDG 12 by 2030 "unless some serious measures are taken by the government to reverse the present trend."

Carrying out the study from the "consumer’s perspective", it seeks to analyse the current scenario at the national level, including the role of ecolabels, impact of the pandemic etc., with in-depth study in five states -- Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Kerala and Himachal Pradesh -- through one-to-one interviews, focus group discussions, qualitative analysis, documentation of successful case studies etc.

Titled "Sustainable Consumption and Production: A Consumer Perspective", the study says, "Recession, loss of job and physical distancing largely affected the way people produce and consume. Nothing remains the same as prior to the pandemic, people’s needs and wants changing drastically. There is a tremendous increase in the use of plastics like never before in healthcare."

It believes, "Apart from the medical wastes, one could also witness an increased dependence of consumers on disposables, such as plastic plates, cups, carry bags, sanitizers and bottled drinking water as a hygiene measure to avoid Covid-19."

"Also", it adds, "An increased dependence on online delivery of consumer goods and foods has resulted in the surge in packaging material usage. However, there is no ground estimate to show how much plastic wastes have been generated in India since the corona scare."

According to the study, "The country also generated 3.2 million tonnes of e-waste last year, ranking third after China (10.1 million tonnes) and the US (6.9 million tonnes). Following the current growth rate of e-waste, an ASSOCHAM-EY joint report, titled ‘Electronic Waste Management in India’ estimated India to generate 5 million tonnes by 2021."

Identifying computer equipment and mobile phones as the principal waste generators in India, the study says, "With Covid-19 keeping people indoors, the usage is only getting higher; and without proper intervention, it is likely to be over 100 million tonnes by 2050. To make matters worse, waste collection and recycling of waste came to a halt during lockdown across the country."

Claiming that before the pandemic, India’s performance in the circular economy was notable, as "it led to the collection and recycling of plastic waste and almost 60-70 percent of it was collected and recycled into other useful products", the study laments, "People now again resort to unsustainable habits of burning household wastes or throwing them on the roadside, creating conditions for the spread of infectious diseases."

The study asserts, "Equally, to maintain physical distance, people are no longer willing to use public transports, instead, self-driven individual vehicles are on rise. For instance, Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC), which has remained non-operational due to the Covid-19 lockdown, has incurred a revenue loss of nearly INR 10 billion."

It adds, "According to the Bus & Car Operators Confederation of India (BOCI) the losses are to the tune of INR 650 billion and most of the operators are now on the verge of a shutdown. This sudden change in deviation of transport choices by the public will certainly aggravate the level of emissions and pollution in the long run."

Based on this situation, the study says, "Focus on the national scenario practices and learning from five targeted States, Kerala, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh shows that it is very unlikely that India will achieve any of the targets of SDG 12. The status of many of the Indicators may further worsen by 2030, compared with 2015, due to the negative impact of the pandemic and various other reasons."

While the country has programmes and policies at national and state levels to support SCP and achieve SDG 12, the study states, "But lack of effective implementation and enforcement of such programmes have failed to bring out the desired impact. A need for an interdepartmental coordination committee to strengthen the waste management system at the State level was also felt strongly."


"From a consumer perspective, while schemes like Swachh Bharat Mission did create mass awareness about cleanliness and hygiene, it could not create any rippling effect to raise public’s awareness about issues like waste segregation, recycling and product life-cycle", it underlines.

It notes, "Despite some ambitious policies and targets, India still globally stands out as one of the largest consumers of natural resources and substantial producers of waste of all kinds with limited infrastructure to collect, responsibly treat, and recycle the waste they produce."

"In addition", the study says, "The country performs poorly on the phasing out fossil fuel subsidies. Subsidies for fossil fuels are still some six to seven times more than subsidies for clean energy. Apart from these, there is a very low eagerness on authorities concerned at both Centre and at the State level to promote sustainable public procurement (SPP) and sustainable tourism."

Then, it says, "The status of ecolabels and eco-standards are also not yet very encouraging in India. Ecomark, the Indian ecolabel for products, was introduced in 1991. But the label has not found acceptability from both manufacturers and buyers. Though informal and periodic, the country has witnessed few instances of smart and efficient SPP."

The study further says, "Unfortunately, till date, the government has not been able to effectively address the drivers of unsustainable consumption and production patterns such as inadequate commitment, ill-informed society, inequitable growth, lack of technology, limited product life spans, lack of support or push for greener business models, limited incentives for waste prevention via reuse and other means, and the absence of sustainable alternatives to high impacting consumption patterns."

It adds, "Most of the activities fail to get reported because of the lack of awareness among the concerned officials, except a couple of them involved in reporting, SDG, and its importance. They fail to connect such sustainable activities with the SDGs. This was proved to be correct during the survey of our study, as most of the officials were not able to recognise what an SDG is."

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