Will your Frooti & Maaza packs go off the shelves from July 1?
Govt has decided to phase out single-use plastic from the country. So, FMCG companies are now scrambling to find a replacement for plastic straws. Here's an insight into the world of plastic straws
Krishna Veera Vanamali New Delhi
The impending ban on single-use plastic will deal a death blow to the humble straws from July 1. And it has left FMCG companies selling small packs of juices and dairy products in a tizzy. With just a week to go for the ban to come into effect, intense lobbying is still underway by some stakeholders to get the deadline extended.
Every year, six billion small packs between sizes of 75-250 ml with juice, milk, coffee, buttermilk, lassi and other beverages are sold with plastic straws attached to them, a market that’s estimated to be worth Rs 6,000 crore.
Such integrated plastic straws account for just 0.05% of the total single use plastic in terms of volumes. Yet, the stark reality is that plastic straws take up to 200 years to decompose, and they break into smaller plastics and can be ingested in marine life. In contrast, paper straws decompose within two to six weeks.
The companies that are impacted most are the big ones like Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Parle Agro and Dabur India. Their concern is that India does not produce the required paper straws.
Action Alliance for Recycling Beverage Cartons or AARC, an industry group that represents some of the major beverage producers, had demanded that plastic straws be exempted from the ban on single-use plastics from next month but changed its stance in May. Still, it sought an extension of 18 months for the transition.
Most consumers are familiar with the experience of using paper straws for cold coffees and milk shakes. They become soggy even before the drink is over. So making resilient paper straws of smaller diameters is another challenge.
Companies are compelled to import paper straws, which are four to seven times more expensive than their food-grade plastic counterparts.
Frooti and Appy maker Parle Agro’s CEO Schauna Chauhan said that extending the deadline by six months was “critical” for developing local manufacturing capacities. While the company has started importing paper straws for now, she said it’s an unsustainable option and the “economics just does not match up for a Rs 10 product”.
She said that 80% of integrated straws are recycled, and countries like China and Thailand have allowed their use. Chauhan further said it was not clear what would happen to the current stocks if the ban was enforced.
Dairy giant Amul, which clocked sales of Rs 61,000 crore in FY22, also urged the government to delay the ban by one year saying the move will have a “negative impact” on farmers and milk consumption, while also warning of sales disruption.
Citing global capacity constraints and logistical drawbacks, Parle Agro warned that that the industry might have to close factory operations if the deadline is not extended. There is a global shortage of paper straws. Only China, Indonesia and some European countries make paper straws and India comes low on their priority list.
And for those who are trying to import machines to make paper straws locally, it is a one-year wait. The CEO of Action Alliance for Recycling Beverage Cartons (AARC), Praveen Aggarwal, estimates that imports can meet only 25% of the country’s demand by this year’s end.
Can companies choose to ship the products without a straw or change the packaging to spout pouches instead?
AARC's Aggarwal says there is going to be massive disruption if deadline isn’t extended. He says, changing packaging design is a time-consuming and costly process. Shipping products without straw compromises hygiene.
Environmentalists on the other hand argue that ample time has been given to the industry to find the appropriate substitutes for plastic straws. The phasing out of these straws was initially notified by the Central Pollution Control Board way back in 2018, fixing 2020 as the deadline for doing so.
The present deadline of July 1 was set almost a year ago in August 2021. Compostable straws made of paper and corn starch-based polylactic acid are now being commonly used in many other countries.
Nestlé India has already started attaching imported paper straws with its cold coffee packs and Milo range of products. Despite months of lobbying, the government has not relented and is not expected to either, since such plastic straws are only one of the 22 single-use plastic products that are banned from July.
An Indian packaging company is setting up a plant with technology from the Netherlands that will be able to meet the entire domestic demand of paper straws by the peak season next year. Until then, FMCG players hope the government will heed their last-minute demand as they stare at disruption in supply of juices and drinks with the ban nearing.
First Published: Jun 23 2022 | 07:00 AM IST