The National Green Tribunal has directed the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to conduct an environmental audit and recover fines from Amazon and Flipkart for excessive plastic packaging.
The CPCB had earlier told the NGT that e-commerce firms have to fulfil their extended producer responsibility under the Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016, and set up systems to collect the plastic waste generated due to the packaging of their products.
In its observation, the green panel noted that the statutory regulators were not taking coercive measures, including invoking of "polluter pays" principle.
"A report has been filed by the CPCB, which again mentions one or other reasons for not enforcing the law but does not mention the coercive measures adopted either directly by the CPCB or in coordination with the state pollution control boards," a bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice A K Goel stated.
"The CPCB can also consider ordering environmental audit against the concerned entities and assess and recover compensation for violation of environmental norms, following due process of law," the bench added.
The NGT has sought an action taken report in the matter before October 14, adding that the member secretary, CPCB, may remain present through video conferencing during the hearing on the next date.
The CPCB has earlier told the NGT that as per provisions 9(2) of the Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016, "Primary responsibility for collection of used multi-layered plastic sachet or pouches or packaging is of producers, importers and brand owners who introduce the products in the market."
The green tribunal's directive comes after a 16-year-old boy filed a plea asking the tribunal to stop e-commerce giants Amazon and Flipkart from excessive plastic use in their packaging.
Through his legal guardian, Aditya Dubey pleaded the NGT to direct the e-commerce firms to stop using excessive plastic in packaging the goods they deliver.
"The e-commerce companies are covered under the Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016. But due to a lack of monitoring and implementation, the respondents continue to use excessive amounts of plastic in wrapping and packaging their sold items," the plea stated.
The plea stated that for delivery, the firms used cardboard boxes much larger than the size of the items to be delivered.
"To ensure that the sold items do not move around in the outsized boxes, they wrap the items in multiple layers of plastic sheets and plastic bubble wraps and thereafter fill the large empty spaces in the boxes with additional sheets of single-use plastic," the petition stated.
"Single-use plastic has emerged as one of the biggest environmental challenges for our planet. It is cheap, useful, ubiquitous and very deadly. The fact that it's non-biodegradable and is recycled in very small percentages means that our planet with passage of time is becoming a big dumping ground for single-use plastic, which breaks down into smaller fragments known as microplastics and then contaminates soil and water," it added.