The campus of Shakti Plastic Industries in Palghar, near Mumbai, resembles a junkyard with piles of garbage strewn all over. Workers scan through this waste for multilayered plastic (MLP), basically, food and chocolate wrappers and chip, biscuit and snack packs that will be used for recycling purposes.
Fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) major ITC has introduced the country’s first MLP collection and recycling initiative in Pune, tying up with a waste-pickers co-operative (Swach) at one end and recyclers such as Shakti Plastic at the other to ensure sustainable plastic waste management.
The plan, according to Chitranjan Dar, head of projects, EHS and quality assurance, ITC, is to scale up the project to more cities, including places such as Bengaluru and Hyderabad.
Why the project is of significance is because MLP is difficult to recycle and has posed a huge challenge to all stakeholders, including companies, consumers and policymakers in the war on plastic. User industries, including packaged food companies, argue there is no replacement to MLP, which simply put consists of multiple layers of plastic and other materials such as aluminium foils, paper, paperboards etc, which are all part of the packaging.
These multiple layers prevent food contamination and help in transport and storage. Hence, this is the best way in which packaged food can reach people, say food majors. But waste collectors and rag pickers typically don't collect this waste, littering streets, dumps and sewage canals. In some cases, this waste is taken to cement kilns as an alternative to fossil fuels (such as coal) at these plants and mixed with bitumen for road construction. But as Rahul Poddar, director, Shakti Plastic Industries, explains that sending MLP waste to cement kilns while being an easy method to dispose it makes no economic sense at all, since recyclers have to transport this waste to plants at their own cost.
Where ITC steps in is that it is buying MLP waste from garbage collectors at the very start and then sorting and baling this with the help of Swach before it is sent to recyclers such as Shakti Plastic. At the recycling unit, ITC, says Dar, has invested in technology to help convert the MLP waste into pellets, used for making everyday items such as plastic chairs, stools, files, clips, buckets, mugs etc. “It is an end-to-end solution where sustainable plastic waste management is the objective,” he says.
Experts say that other companies may jump in at a time when sustainable plastic waste management is gaining ground.
Currently, most other packaged food majors in India largely tackle the issue of plastic waste management through the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) programme that makes it mandatory for firms to take back the plastic waste generated by their products by collecting it with the help of NGOs and waste-management players and then disposing it at cement kilns or recycling whatever they can with the help of recyclers.
Some majors such as Hindustan Unilever, Nestlé and even ITC are working on developing recyclable plastic in the next few years to aid plastic waste management.