On Jan. 27, India’s Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change published a notice in the National Gazette that imports of postindustrial and/or preconsumer polyethylene would be permitted into Export-Oriented Units and Special Economic Zones. According to the notice, imports are permitted for 18 months with a requirement of at least 50% exports in terms of weight. This amendment “might create an expanded market opportunity for this type of material stream,” says Adina Renee Adler, ISRI’s vice president of advocacy.

Back in 2016, the Indian government released the “Hazardous Waste (Management & Transboundary Movement) Rules,” which, in an effort to strengthen the “environmentally sound management of hazardous waste,” banned scrap plastic imports. Later that year, India amended the rules to allow exceptions for companies in economic development areas, or “Export-Oriented Units (EOU) and Special Economic Zones (SEZ),” to legally import plastic.

For the next few years, India was one of the top importers of recovered plastic. In the first six months of 2019, they were the second largest importer of U.S. scrap plastic. But in March 2019, the Indian government amended the 2016 rules to once again place a ban on scrap plastic imports, including PET, PE, polypropylene, and polystyrene, among other grades. The ban took effect at the end of Aug. 2019.

The plastics recycling industry is a significant employer in India, which may explain the 2016 and 2021 amendments to the rules. “The government recognized that there is a sizable domestic industry that would be harmed without having access to high-quality material from overseas sources,” says Adler. Because these designated areas that are allowed to receive the materials aren’t considered to be Indian soil, people can keep their jobs and the plastics can get processed in special zones without them technically entering the country, she adds.

Adler also notes India expects the material to meet Basel Convention expectations. In other words, the material can be imported as long as it is segregated from other plastics. It also needs to be “as clean as possible,” a condition that, Adler explains, “is still being determined by Basel Convention party, of which ISRI is part.”

In the same announcement, India also allowed a generous opening for trade of used clothing without a license.