Plastics Waste Management

Plastics Waste Management Trends & strategies to Reach Circular Economy

Plastic Waste issue has been in the proverbial eye of the storm globally & so many interesting statistics have been bandied about that ,I will stay away from quoting them again. In India PWM has started to receive some attention since 2016, when the solid/plastic waste management rules were framed  & recently has peaked, in terms of visibility, with the announcements by our Hon’ble PM. Regulations are still being revised & industry consultations are on, about, what should be an equitable approach to this issue & shortly some rules/amendments, to PWM 2016/2018, are expected to be announced, which would impact single use plastics. One can only hope that as these regulations are written that science & logic will be used & emotional rhetoric kept firmly aside. Thankfully the government is in the process of developing a National Resource policy, which should lay the foundation to a more structured approach regarding overall resource utilisation & optimisation.

The key gaps in the current Plastic Waste Management, as it relates top “on the ground” realities & which need to be urgently addressed to improve the present situation & enable a pathway to achieve circular economy goals are:

1. Lack of authentic data on use of plastics & plastic waste generation/recycling.
2. Gaps in capacity pertaining to waste collection & segregation infrastructure.
3. Lack of coordination between ULB’s, NGO’s & waste management companies.
4. Citizen awareness & behaviour change towards littering & segregation at source.
5. Gaps in capacity building of plastic recycling infrastructure & technology.
6. Incentives to Industry for use of recycled plastics.
7. Circular thinking & implementation as an integral part of the “business model”.
8. Adoption of triple bottom line reporting by Corporates & ESG theme-based valuation & funding.

Collectively addressing these gaps represents a ~ USD 2-3 billion investment & business opportunity for the packaging/plastics value chain & has the potential to generate at least 2 lakh new jobs, for our economy.

Plastic is a valuable resource & it has been scientifically proven that plastic has the lowest carbon foot print as compared to other alternate packaging materials, for the applications it is used in currently. Plastic brought a clear & differentiated value to various applications, over the past decades, which is why it has replaced other materials. Going forward one needs to only think of the Electric Vehicle initiative, without plastic, to understand it’s value!

Some myths however exist & it is high time, these need to be busted, as they stand in between the current & desires state of a circular world. I am listing a few of the many myths that exist.

Myth 1: Multilayer packaging cannot be recycled. Technologies exist and are already being practiced to recycle multi- layer plastics. The issue is not with multi-layer plastics packaging, it is with Multi-Layer Multi-Material Packaging structures (the ubiquitous chips packet for example). Separating  packaging structures made of two different “materials” is an issue. Even for MLMMP’s as I like to call them, technocrats are working on both recycling & upcycling innovations.

Myth 2: Bio-degradable plastics is the solution. These are plastics and they also need to be recycled. Some so called bio-degradable plastics have been shown not to degrade for over 20 years! Further, does this not, unwittingly promote or rationalise littering? Adding bio-degradable plastics to the existing value chain, exacerbates the already stressed plastic recycling eco-system.

Myth 3:  Sustainability is not a purchase decision criteria for consumers. Recent studies have shown an increasing percentage of consumers include “sustainability” as a key purchase decision criterion & this segment of consumers is growing every year. Responsible consumerism is still nascent in India, however I see this as an emerging macro-trend that Brand Owners would have to adapt to, in the coming years.

Clearly the road, to addressing plastic waste, is long and arduous, but one needs to take inspiration from the fact, that:
• India boasts of one of the highest recovery of post-consumer PET bottles , which serve as  raw materials for the textile industry.
• Cities like Indore/ Ahmedabad/ AmbikaPur have demonstrated that the “complex” world of waste management can be addressed through collaboration across the value chain.
• Recycling as a concept is inherent in the Indian culture or way of living & a vibrant eco-system exists today, whenever a clear value had been linked to the “waste” (news- papers, glass bottles, PET bottles).
Building a viable eco-system, that enables circularity rests on leveraging & strengthening the existing collection & segregation system; use of technology to upgrade processes & infrastructure & above all a spirit of collaboration across the stake holders. Organisations can no longer afford to ignore this facto and they have to have robust risk mitigation plans, else they carry the danger of becoming the dinosaurs in the emerging new world order of business.

B. Chem Engg., from ICT, Mumbai & MBA from J Bajaj Institute of Management, Shailendra is passionate about sustainability, plastic waste management & the impact of climate change on businesses & business models. He is a staunch believer that impactful, climate change mitigating actions, rest on developing viable business models for the new world. He has rich work experience in Specialty Chemicals & Plastics of over 3 decades with leading MNC’s, spanning several countries in Asia Pacific Region working in senior leadership roles. Recently he has founded his own enterprise which will focus on sustainability/climate change “on the ground” actions.

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