Businesses have been battling with the plastic pollution issue for long. This was even before the United Nations declared it the theme of World Environment Day under the #BeatPlasticPollution campaign this year.
A report titled Strategies for Sustainable Plastic Packaging in India: A USD 100 billion Opportunity till 2030 by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry and Accenture (2020) focuses on two types of solutions in the packaging sector: reuse by return or reuse without return. The report highlights that reuse by return can reduce material value loss by $9 billion or 7 per cent.
According to NITI Aayog’s Report on Alternative Products and Technologies to Plastics and their Applications, recycling is not the only solution to plastic pollution, but it also opens a window of opportunity for material innovation.
A positive turn of events is that many major companies have already taken steps to address the plastic issue. Over 500 signatories, including Coca-Cola, L’Oréal, Mars and Nestlé, have signed the Global Commitment. This joint initiative of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the UN Environment Programme aims to bring about changes in plastic production, usage, and recycling.
Rajesh Ayapilla, Coca-Cola India’s Director (CSR and Sustainability for India and Southwest Asia), highlights the organisation’s efforts to positively impact people’s lives, communities, and the planet by doing business the right way. The company’s Coca-Cola’s World Without Waste Initiative focuses on creating a circular economy for plastics, covering the entire lifecycle of packaging from how packaging is designed and produced to how it is recycled and repurposed.
He states, “As part of this global initiative, our ambition is to collect and recycle every bottle or can we sell globally by 2030 so that it has more than one life. We have also been continuously working on redesigning lightweight packaging and introducing innovative packaging solutions.” Ayapilla adds that to create a circular economy for plastics by closing the loop, Coca-Cola and its partners are developing sustainable, community-led programmes for integrated plastic waste management and promoting efficient recycling in the country.
Focusing on sustainable production, India’s biggest polymer maker, Reliance India Limited, focuses on plastic circularity and waste management. It recycles 2 million PET bottles annually and aims to recycle five billion bottles in the near future.
Tushar Pania, Assistant Vice President at Reliance India Limited, says, “Our systems are designed in such a way that there is no wastage. Plastics are made either out of crude or natural gas derivates. So every molecule of it is used to make something or the other, including plastics of different types. Hence, there is no waste at the end of it.”
He also reveals that the company’s process ends with making raw material for sending to processors, which largely don’t make single-use plastic (SUP) products. “Small processors make SUP products. We only deal with large processors which make plastic products that can be recycled. We have been conscious about it in terms of not making or not shipping it to those who make SUP products,” he explains.
A startup, Ecoex, founded by Nimit Aggarwal and Akshaya Rath, is the first digital platform in India for plastic credit certificate trading. It is a platform for stakeholders to realise their Extended Producer Responsibilitiy (EPR) under Plastic Waste Management (Amendment) Rules 2022.
The company’s CEO and co-founder, Akshaya Rath, says that its business model is based on empowering the recycling industry. “On behalf of the brand that needs to fulfil its EPR, we collect the documentary evidence for collection, transportation and the recycling certificate of the waste from the recyclers, who have valid certificates from the Central Pollution Control Board. Once all this is done along with the EPR documentation, we call it the plastic credit or the EPR credit,” he elaborates.
Bringing in the more comprehensive technological advancements, Rath adds that Ecoex is also the first in the country to focus on blockchain. It creates QR codes which, when scanned, can get entire information of the consignment’s sourcing, collection, transportation and recycling.
“The second step is to convert that QR code into Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) and to facilitate our recycler community to sell these NFTs in the international market. Going forward, plastic credits can also be accommodated in global market exchanges, just like carbon credits,” he explains.
Instead of throwing away plastic waste like polythene, grocery plastic bags, multi-layered wrappers of cookies, chips, detergents and old audio and video cassettes, Ecokaari, a Pune-based startup founded by Nandan Bhat, accepts plastic waste couriers from all over the country or from wholesalers. Every month Ecokaari recycles about one-tonne of plastic waste, which is equivalent to 2-2.5 lakh plastic bags per month. Using the traditional charkha, this plastic waste is then upcycled into products like bags, accessories, etc.
Bhat elaborates on the complete process: “Once plastic comes to the unit, it is washed first, then sanitised and dried under the sun. This complete process is manual. It means no extra energy is used.” Once the plastic is sorted, it is converted into long strips. Those strips are then rolled into the traditional charkha and woven to get the fabric. With such innovations, the unusual business of plastic waste is set to become business as usual. And there are many takers for it, thankfully.