Pollution caused by plastic is accumulating worldwide, on land and in the oceans. Globally, over 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic has been produced since 1950, and about 60 per cent of that has ended up in landfills or in the natural environment. India generates almost 9.5 Mn tonnes of plastics annually and almost half of it gets leaked polluting and damaging our environment.
Tackling this requires an urgent, international and national response where stakeholders from across all sectors must (governments, corporates, technology companies and recyclers) come together and collectively look for innovative solutions that will not only create the accountability, but also inspire the community to take action.
Extended Producer responsibility (EPR) is a crucial step in achieving this. EPR policy is based on the concept of the ‘polluters pay’ principle. EPR is a mechanism in which producers, importers and brand owners (PIBOs) are responsible for the responsible disposal of plastics packaging that they manufacture or use. The EPR policy aims to encourage producers, importers and brand owners to change product design that supports environment. As part of the Plastic Waste Management 2016 notification in India, the Indian government has introduced a clear guideline on ERP, with the aim to improve plastic circularity and address systemic challenges.
Vikaasa's Leaders Inspire session
In this context, as part of our Leader's Inspire session, we met with Mr Aditya Dalmia, Managing Director, Dalmia Polypro, and Mr Jikul Purohit, Co-founder of global packaging consultancy, Packfora LLP. Moderated by Ritik Sinha, Principal, Xynteo, the virtual discussion delved deeper into 'Sustainable packaging, EPR and circular economy' . It was attended by 50+ participants along with senior leaders from Xynteo’s Vikaasa partnership.
In the discussion, Mr Dalmia stressed that the government of India's EPR policy was a step in the right direction, but it would still require collective efforts from all relevant stakeholders to address the challenges around waste collection infrastructure, the right technology for recycling hard-to-recycle plastics and a generation of sustainable demand for recycled products. Despite complimenting the policy's intent, Mr Purohit highlighted the challenges associated with its implementation in an inflation-ridden economy and its impact on the sustainability strategies of fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies.
FMCG companies are proactively making bold commitments to improve both the sustainability of their packaging and to fundamentally rethink their packaging systems. Large amounts of packaging produced today cannot be recycled in existing recycling systems. This is especially true for multi-material packaging, which today poses a significant and unresolved challenge in recycling. Jikul Purohit shared that while there has been a growing chorus among FMCG companies to find the common ground for a “design for recyclability’ framework, due to different packaging compositions and lack of coordination among the relevant stakeholders, not much progress has been made.
Today, packaging design considerations mainly evolve around costs related to raw materials, production and logistics, while costs for responsibly disposing off the plastics packaging are not considered. We need to start asking the hard hitting questions like - what will happen to this material? How will it be disposed of? What implications it will have on environment if not properly disposed of? To create a more sustainable, circular system, we must see collaboration between upstream (packaging companies) and downstream players (recyclers). The Government and FMCG companies will have to work closely with upstream and downstream players to ensure that the plastic packaging is designed for the right end application or ‘designed for recycling’.
The future of green packaging
During the session, Jikul Purohit highlighted that when it comes to biodegradable packaging, there are misconceptions about its use and viability. Some studies suggests that crude oil-based plastics can be much more efficient than biodegradable plastics. He recommended that a proper scientific evaluation needs to be done before adopting biodegradable plastics in India.
Aditya Dalmia further added we need to be understanding of the realities on the ground as well; in India the source waste segregation rates are very low; and informal sector plays a very important role in secondary waste segregation. We need to clearly understand if the bio plastics waste can be disposed of with regular wet waste or we need to separately segregate and send it for composting; because if it is mixed with dry waste it will contaminate the batch of fossil-based plastic that could have been recycled; thus further bringing down the yield in the recycling industry.
Addressing the issues across the waste value chain requires systemic interventions across the existing waste ecosystem. We must see collaboration across the different stakeholders in order to create a truly circular economy.
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