The PLA Story : Insights from Mr.Vinod Bondal, CEO, KONSPEC

In an exclusive interview with Packaging 360, Mr. Vinod Bondal, CEO Konspec, shares his vision about the versatile bioplastic PLA. He also provides insights into his “Light-house projects” and the collaboration with Total Corbion PLA, along with exciting possibilities for the future in India.

Packaging 360: A hold to the complete ban on single-use plastic and yet a long-term goal to reduce its footprint will be an industry changer. Your announcement as a technical collaborator with Total Corbion PLA comes at an opportune time. Could you elaborate your announcement please?

Vinod Bondal: Total Corbion PLA, a 50/50 joint venture between Total and Corbion, operates a 75,000 tons per year PLA (Poly Lactic Acid) bioplastics plant in Rayong, Thailand. The plant, which was started up in late 2018, produces Luminy® PLA resins. This bioplastic provides a valuable contribution towards the circular economy being biobased and biodegradable and offering multiple environmentally friendly end of life solutions
Total Corbion PLA’s technical collaboration with KONSPEC for India, Bangladesh and Nepal, is to offer compounded PLA solutions for various applications. Total Corbion PLA and KONSPEC intend to create ‘light-house projects’ (a closed loop ‘spotlight’ and industry exclusive pilot project) with specific sectors that are high on the plastic consumption cycle and yet can be converted into a closed loop of circular economy and a waste to wealth program where the waste can be re-acquired and recycled or converted into energy, or composted and returned to the soil as fertilizer.
A ‘light-house project’ is ideally in a closed B2B environment that is high on plastic consumption and reaches over many plastic applications, it is a key factor in ensuring quick proofing of concepts. In this context, it is also important to understand that a complete sudden ban would have disrupted and destroyed various industries in one go. The deferred and systematic move offers the industry, government and the user-led ecosystems to arrive at pragmatic long term solutions that change the usage pattern itself over time and for industry to adapt gradually to better alternatives like PLA

Packaging 360: Can you briefly state the advantages of bioplastics in this global context.

Vinod Bondal: The positive contribution of PLA (or Poly Lactic Acid) and bioplastics is recognized, and we currently see a strong tailwind. PLA offers two distinct advantages:
– Firstly, PLA is Biobased and thus has a much lower carbon footprint than traditional fossil-based plastics.
– Secondly PLA also offers great benefits after its use. It can either be collected and recycled mechanically or, and this is specific to PLA, It can be converted back to Lactic Acid. We call this chemical recycling.
– An additional benefit of PLA after its use is, it can help to divert food waste from landfill to properly managed composting or biogas facilities. This not only reduces pollution but also substantially reduces the emission of green-house gases.
So overall PLA offers strong advantages to help to reduce the footprint of society on our planet. Many applications from cold to hot and from flexible to ridged are possible in PLA and in bioplastics.

P360: Where do you see opportunities for ‘light-house projects’ immediately coming from? Understand that you’ve already connected and are in the process of closing a few?

VB: Yes, though an NDA with the prospective partners do not allow us to reveal the names, these are ‘Large India Business Owners’ across the spectrum spanning from airport operators, airlines, FMCG companies, airline kitchens, hotel chains and large airline kitchens.
We intend to close 5-6 ‘light house projects in the next 6 months.

P360: How does a ‘light-house’ project help?

VB: Well the name itself is suggestive of its delivery model. The idea is to pick-up one role model in each industry (ideally a leader in the space) and go through its lifecycle need of plastics usage. PLA is the primary resin. When it has to be converted into a product, lets say a cup into which you pour a hot tea or coffee, if you merely take PLA and thermoform it into a cup, it will crumple. If it needs to withstand heat, or if the properties need to be modified for anything else, you need to compound it with minerals, and with chemicals and natural fibre to convert it into a stable product for normal usage just like with ordinary plastic. This technology piece is what Konspec proposes to step-in to arrive at, through its government approved labs we ensure the products we perfect for each industry then becomes an opportunity for others across that industry to adopt. A lighthouse project will thus help to “localize” many the conversion technologies for many applications to India, pioneer the EOL (End of Life) options and most importantly learn how to instruct and train the staff to separate the waste and enable the EOL options. It is a “rapid prototype” to learn and avoid pitfalls later on.

P360: There is a decisive momentum to ban conventional plastic use across the globe. How are you responding to this sentiment through your products and solutions?

VB: The movement to think about the sustainability of plastics and their impact on the environment is a step in the right direction to increase the sustainability of our society.
– But we also must acknowledge that, overall plastics are very useful materials that add a lot of value to the society. The real problem is that the EOL (End of Life) solutions for plastics have long been neglected and thus fossil-based plastics now cause a many issue in the society. In addition, when banning fossil based plastics, we must critically also think about the alternatives and their impact on society.
– And here bioplastics and PLA offer a credible alternative for many existing plastic applications: Cups, bags, cutlery, non-woven, foams to name just a few can be made from PLA and other Bioplastics. As stated above these PLA and bioplastics packaging allow to divert food waste from landfills to industrial composting sites. We clearly do not support the landfill of bioplastics, however should PLA and other bioplastics accidentally end up in the environment, they will degrade substantially faster than traditional plastics and thus create much less harm.

P360: The implementation of EPR or (Extended Producer Responsibility) in that context will be a huge contributor?

VB: The OECD countries, Japan and China, to name a few, are some of the countries which have benefited themselves out of the EPR programmes implemented in their respective countries. When the Centre published the Plastic Waste Management (PWM) Rules in 2016, a key element of it was “extended producer responsibility” or EPR. The idea of EPR was to make the polluter pay. So, all sellers of plastic packaging were required to, within six months, install a system to collect their waste.  Earlier, it was the E-Waste (Management and Handling) Rules 2011 where the concept of EPR was introduced for the first time in India which made all the producers of electronic goods responsible for the waste production management. Though new E-Waste (Management) Rules, 2016, set stringent targets for the producers to collect and recycle end-of-life products of their goods, in theory, EPR seemingly answers core problems for governments, the implementation is far more challenging for companies. Informal waste workers are responsible for 90% of recycling that happens in developing countries.

In India, With little help from municipal bodies, they are able to recycle almost 80% of Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) and yet, incase of multi-layered packaging (MLP) which doesn’t fetch waste pickers much money, it hasn’t been easy to implement because it can’t be recycled. EPR can step-in here with companies incentivising these workers to recover 100% of waste, including MLPs.

Mr. Vinod Bondal, Managing Director of Konspec is a plastic industry veteran with over 25 years of experience in the plastics and allied chemical industry. Konspec is a Technical Compounding and Masterbatches manufacturing company with 30 years of excellence in Masterbatches, Polymer compounds, Innovative Materials  & Performance Products which has recently diversified into Natural Fibre Composites under the brand name of “Wuddy” & Biodegradable and Compostable Compounds manufactured under a Technical Collaboration with Total Corbion a leader in PLA . Konspec has 7 Factory Units spread between Mangalore and Chennai with a Current overall installed capacity of 52000 MT per annum across multiple product segments. Major products provide include Colour MB, White MB, Black MB, Mineral Filled MB & Modifiers as well as customized & value engineered solution services. NABL accredited laboratory for product life cycle testing, validation & certification New products: A range of bio-degradable & compostable compounds-based PLA /PBAT/ PBS for the manufacture of single-use plastic products.

P360: What are the issues you foresee when it comes to the plastics management in the country?

VB: So, while we’ve been also speaking to food aggregators and hospitality chains as much as fmcg companies, what we realise is that the entire backend model of waste management in the country needs an overhaul. The plastics mandate would probably lead to this very important step where the mandates would ensure cost efficiencies for professional players both local and global to employ the best in technology to sort dry and wet waste as much as biodegradable and non-biodegradable plastics.

Another huge step in the right direction towards this would be raising public awareness on the definitions of each. More mandates on standardized codes that help differentiate these for the common user will all, collectively help move the needle in this direction.

There is a dire need to perfect a model of ‘reverse logistics’ in plastics to ensure your packaging is picked up and brought back in for correct disposal towards ‘end of life’ solutions – either to recycle and where unrecyclable in the case of biodegradables and convention polyolefins, extract energy through bio methanation or a pre-tested process of ‘plastics to fuel’. We need to end the linear model of using resources, in nature there is no waste and we must start to think this way as well; It thus must be clear from the conception of a product what happens with the same after it has been used.

Read more about our article on ‘Total Corbion PLA launching completely bio-degradable plastic in India’

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Aishwarya, having a BE degree in Printing and Packaging Technology, is a Content Editor at CNT Expositions and Services and manages the content of its online website, Packaging 360, a comprehensive knowledge sharing platform. She is credited with tracking and publishing news related to Packaging Industry. She also tracks market trends, key developments and market analysis reports.

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