How companies and startups are using three ‘Rs’ of waste management to tackle global challenges | The Financial Express

How companies and startups are using three ‘Rs’ of waste management to tackle global challenges

One of the major sectors facing a number of social and environmental challenges is the multi-trillion dollar global fashion industry, which produces over 100 billion garments annually.

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Organisations are making incremental gains across the stages of the product life cycle (materials and manufacturing, transportation, use and end-of-life), identifying all the small differences that combine to make a big impact across the board.

When a friend came visiting Ankit Agarwal’s house in Kanpur in 2015 and expressed interest to see the ghats of Ganga, they were aghast to see the river turning carcinogenic. “It was easy at first to place the blame on the tanneries, factories, and sewers that were indiscriminately dumping their refuse into the river. While we gazed at the dirty water in culpable silence, we saw the colourful flowers being dumped from the temples nearby turn into mulch as they accumulated, and their colours faded away into the murky waters,” he reminisces.

Something had to be done about this, he had decided then. “Looking for the right opportunity, research revealed to us that most of these flowers that end up at the temples are loaded full of pesticides and insecticides. Once they reach the waters of the river, the chemicals wash off, mixing with the water, making toxic compounds, suppressing the oxygen level, and thereby gravely threatening marine life,” he adds.

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When he realised his mission was to repurpose this waste coming from places of worship, thus was born Phool, a biomaterials startup co-founded by Agarwal and Prateek Kumar in 2017. The startup uses flowers from temples across India and creates products such as charcoal-free incense sticks and incense cones, vermicompost and organic and biodegradable packaging materials through its ‘flowercycling’ technology.

Collecting 8.4 tonne of floral waste from temples in Uttar Pradesh on a daily basis, Phool has so far recycled 11,060 tonne of the by-product and counting.

Phool does the product packaging in a plastic pouch which is made from oxo-biodegradable plastic, and the outer box is made from cardboard, is biodegradable as well recyclable. The startup promotes the idea of planting trees through a seed card in all the boxes. “We minimise the use of plastic in packaging, reduce carbon footprint by not using heavy machinery in processes, use sun-drying against machines to process flowers, and all the incense sticks and cones are handcrafted. We do not use charcoal or any other chemical-based ingredients in products. We reuse temple flowers in the making of incense sticks and cones and recycle incense sticks by recycling temple flowers,” says Agarwal.

Phool’s latest product is ‘fleather’, which, as the name suggests, is a type of leather made from waste flowers. “Fleather is a breakthrough material that performs and feels like leather, but is non-animal and non-plastic,” adds Agarwal.

Similarly, Delhi-based Doodlage, a design house founded by Kriti Tula in 2012, uses discarded waste cloth from factories to create unique items of sustainable fashion line.

“The fashion industry is one of the most wasteful industries in the world. We produce way more clothes than we need, and we discard them after a couple of wears. And the worst part is, the majority of our clothes goes to landfill, even though we could easily reuse or recycle them,” explains Tula.

How much waste does the fashion industry actually produce? An average consumer throws away 70 pounds (31.75 kg) of clothing per year. Globally, we produce 13 million tonne of textile waste each year 95% of which could be reused or recycled.

“What we waste in our supply chain goes to NGOs to create small products like accessories and toys for kids. What is still left over is recycled to make paper for our notebooks and packaging. We have expanded to include recycled material that is made on handloom in Bangalore and Jaipur, using yarns that are made from shredded post-consumer garments,” says Tula, who has worked to build a decentralised supply chain, where sourcing of waste and production of fabric or garment can happen in the same or close-by cities.

“Artisans working on our products are employed by fair-wage factories or other NGOs and social enterprises. While a lot of factories we work with have water treatment plants and are solar powered, we hope to push for greener energy sources and last-mile deliveries as we scale,” she says. Doodlage works with corporates like Decathlon, Mercedes group and Orange Tree to help them make greener choices.

Another startup, Telangana-based Kheyti, is providing technology solutions to farmers to reduce costs, increase yields and protect livelihoods in a region on the frontlines of climate change. It has developed a ‘greenhouse-in-a-box’, which is an affordable, modular greenhouse bundled with full stack services that uses 90% less water, grows seven times more food and gives farmers a steady dependable income. It is currently working with 1,000 farmers in six states of India. The aim is to equip 50,000 farmers with a ‘greenhouse-in-a-box’ by 2027. Last year, Kheyti was one of the winners of Prince William’s Earthshot Prize to receive 1 million pounds.

Sustainable development

These examples indicate that circular economy—a model of production and consumption, which involves sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling existing materials and products for as long as possible—is at the heart of the country’s vision toward sustainable development, and enterprises like Kheyti, Phool and Doodlage are using such solutions to tackle global challenges like climate change, biodiversity loss, waste, and pollution. Their idea is to reduce, reuse and recycle and understand the environment, and embrace the circular economy to reach net zero.

A model walks the ramp during Tencel show by designer Anju Modi at the FDCI x Lakmé Fashion Week 2022 at Jio World Convention Centre in Mumbai, India on 13th October 2022. Photo : FS Images / FDCI x Lakme Fashion Week / RISE Worldwide

One of the major sectors facing a number of social and environmental challenges is the multi-trillion dollar global fashion industry, which produces over 100 billion garments annually. Given its size and nature, its key environmental challenges are complex and interrelated, but most broadly fall under: land use, water use, chemical use, and biodiversity loss and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Many organisations, however, are now disrupting this challenge by the use of innovation and technology.

Leading the way is Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who recently wore a sleeveless jacket made of recycled materials from plastic bottles. This has only reinforced a movement that many brands have already started.

Lenzing Group, for instance, has been working with key international and domestic brands for a while now, and has seen the conversation around sustainability transition from a buzzword to a core commercial focus for various brands.

Two major factors are driving this philosophy for the brands, says Avinash Mane, commercial director, South Asia of Lenzing Group. “First is the pull which comes from the consumers who expect brands to offer fashion and textile products with minimal environmental impact. This pull was increasing before Covid and has only grown since. Earlier, it was prominent in western markets, but we have seen this growing in India now. The second factor is the push in form of legislations as well as larger government focus on incorporating ESG (environmental, social and governance) for the future of the country. This gives brands a good reason to upgrade their product offerings while ensuring no compromise on the fashion aspect,” he adds.

Over two decades, Lenzing AG products in India have tasted success with brands such as Jockey, House of Anita Dongre, Levi’s, H&M, Jack & Jones, Pepe Jeans, Kraus Jeans ,Indian Terrain and Global Desi, to name a few. This has encouraged more brands across fashion segments to adopt its products from startups like XYXX in innerwear, to Myntra’s inhouse brands.

Brands like Levi Strauss & Co are creating a resilient business too. Its latest sustainability report demonstrates the brand’s commitment to climate, consumption and community including greenhouse gas emissions, water stewardship, circular economy and new business models, worker well-being in the supply chain, diversity, equity and inclusion and social issue advocacy. The marketing campaign ‘Buy Better Wear Longer’ is the brand’s ongoing conversation with consumers about the need to combat overproduction and overconsumption in and by the apparel industry.

“We intend to leverage the strength of brands and longstanding company values to inspire employees, communities and value chain partners to join our journey to create a more inclusive and regenerative apparel industry,” says Jeffrey Hogue, chief sustainability officer, Levi Strauss & Co, adding, “We want our impact to be lasting, run deep within our supply chains and achieve impact at scale. Collaboration is critical, and it is better to be smart than to be first when it comes to creating a resilient future for people and the planet.”

The brand has set a target of 40% absolute reduction in supply chain greenhouse gas emissions by 2025, 90% absolute reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and 100% renewable electricity in all company operated facilities by 2025 and net-zero emissions of greenhouse gases by no later than 2050.

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At Louis Vuitton, 12 regional repair ateliers across the world work daily to repair, rejuvenate, and revitalise products. With the first recorded repair of a Louis Vuitton product dating back to 1860, the brand now repairs 600,000 products per year.

PDS, a leading design-led platform offering end-to-end solutions for garment/ retail brands, focuses on implementing environmentally friendly practices. “Our business units are committed to a four-pronged sustainability agenda built on four pillars, respect water (reuse), reduce emissions, think circular (recycle) and build community,” says Sanjay Jain, Group CEO, PDS Limited.

By employing various rainwater harvesting projects, the company has reduced 40% of water consumption at their business units such as Green Smart Shirts in Bangladesh and 53% at Progress Apparels Bangladesh. Their Zamira Denim Lab Hong Kong has adopted a RE/FORM process: a laser technology for finishing that completes up to 10 pairs of jeans as compared to 3-4 pairs in an hour through a manual process.

Fashion companies like Rothy’s are making shoe uppers from discarded water bottles that are melted and transformed into fibres. Clothing brand Reformation is testing Ecovative’s mushroom-based leather alternative. The brand that uses cashmere responsible for nearly half of the brand’s carbon footprint has spent the last few years working to replace cashmere with a recycled version instead. It launched a collection with 90% recycled fibre to eliminate new cashmere completely.

Arvind Limited, India’s largest textile to technology conglomerate, and PurFi Global LLC, a sustainable technology company, now specialise in rejuvenating textile waste into virgin quality products. The two recently announced a joint venture to reduce the amount of textile waste going to landfills. “For more than 25 years, PurFi has been developing and investing in state-of-the-art technology to rejuvenate industrial textile waste. Unlike the traditional ‘one-and-done’ recycling approach, PurFi’s technology can rejuvenate waste materials into virgin-like fibres 17 times, and it can be done at scale. We can lead the textile and fashion industries into a new era of sustainable practices, transforming textile manufacturing into a truly closed loop cycle,” says Ashish Kumar, president and CEO, Arvind Limited.

The facility will process textile wastes —white cotton, coloured cotton, denim and synthetics—into virgin-like fibres for reuse from two lines, where each line will have a 5,500-tonne capacity per year with plans to expand over the next five years. The investment for these two lines is envisaged at Rs 200-250 crore.

Methodology helps

Organisations are making incremental gains across the stages of the product life cycle (materials and manufacturing, transportation, use and end-of-life), identifying all the small differences that combine to make a big impact across the board.

“Advanced recycling technologies are at the cusp of closing the textile-to-textile recycling loop. The resources and materials are available, yet the infrastructure and systems to source and provide higher quality feedstock fall short. With mounting pressure to reduce reliance on virgin sources and decarbonise the industry, what can be reused, must be reused to its full potential,” feels Katrin Ley, MD, Fashion for Good, an Amsterdam-based platform for fashion and textile innovation.

Founded in 2017 in association with Laudes Foundation, it is now supported by leading global brands like adidas, C&A, Chanel, Bestseller, Kering, Levi Strauss, Otto Group, PVH Corp, Stella McCartney and Target for its disruptive solutions in creating new fibres and garments from used clothing.

Lenzing is also known for innovating processes to reduce environmental impact. Lenzing Ecovero viscose fibres reduce 50% water consumption, 50% less carbon emissions compared to generic viscose. Tencel modal fibre with indigo technology has indigo dyes infused in the fibre compared to normal indigo dyeing process where indigo is introduced at the yarn on fabric level. Tencel lyocell fibres use closed loop production that reuses close to 100% of the solvents used to create fiber from pulp. “These are not just examples; they have tasted commercial success across the globe. And such methods are now being used by other manufacturers as well,” explains Mane.

In 2022, sportswear brand ASICS unveiled its new Gel-Lyte III CM 1.95 sneaker which emits 1.95kg CO2e across its life cycle, significantly lighter than the lowest CO2e sneakers, as per the company. The brand’s key design details include the use of recycled and solution dyed polyester in the main upper material and the sockliner mesh, reflecting ASICS’ target of sourcing 100% of its polyester from recycled sources by 2030.

No more an optional extra

FedEx Express’ new research shows SMEs that embraced e-commerce during the pandemic are underestimating the importance consumers now place on sustainability in their purchase decision-making. Nine out of ten consumers expect SMEs to deliver sustainably and are likely to get more business. Eight out of ten prefer to buy from companies with an effective environmental, social and governance (ESG) strategy in place—but only 38% of SMEs actually have one. “Sustainability is no longer an optional extra for SMEs interested in expanding their e-commerce businesses.

Consumers see it as an essential and non-negotiable part of their decision-making process,” says Kawal Preet, president of Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa (AMEA) at FedEx Express.

While the plastic crisis is perennial as it contaminates, pollutes and is hazardous to many living beings, banning single-use plastic will not only reduce pollution but reduce demand for plastic production that’s contributing to global climate change.

Brands like Bambrew, a solution provider for sustainable packaging, has clients like Swiggy, Byju’s & First Cry, is saving more than 1500 tonne of single use plastic every month to save more than 24,000 tonne of plastic before the end of this financial year. The brand is catering to a demand of more than 75 million of mailer bags per month and another 12 million of carry bags to tackle the demand and to mitigate the plastic from the environment.

The surge in demand has been exponential for Beco, an eco-friendly home and kitchen care products brand which has seen 5x growth year on year as consumers have become more aware of their choices and prefer natural as well as safer products for their homes. Beco has products made from bamboo, cornstarch and plant ingredients, which make the production of the products sustainable from raw material procurement to end product. The brand has launched home cleaner liquids and plans to launch laundry detergent sheets which have zero harmful chemicals.

“Our practices are designed to sustain and not affect the environment or the consumers who use it which makes our approach as a company more credible. The eco-friendly products, such as the bamboo-based kitchen reusable towel, are made from 100% organic bamboo extract. It is one of the most versatile materials that grows back in four months thus not affecting the environment. We’re prepared to enable a better lifestyle to consumers with natural everyday products,” says Akshay Varma, co-founder of Beco, an eco-friendly home and kitchen care products brand.

As companies are forced to innovate, rethink their designs and source sustainable materials, according to Varma, bans have cultural effects. “They help shift consumer mindsets as people begin to recognise that exorbitant and avoidable waste is not sustainable. The awareness of the implication of single-use plastic increases consumers’ bent towards natural and sustainable products for daily essentials,” he adds.

Bisleri International has an initiative called ‘Bottles for Change’ to educate on the importance of recycling plastic and has outlined its vision to connect with 20 major cities to collect and recycle 12,500 tonne of plastic by 2025. Angelo George, CEO, Bisleri International, says, “We have connected with over 600,000 citizens to bring about a behavioural change. This helps to keep plastic in use in a circular-loop system by turning our PET bottles into value-enhanced materials such as apparels, shoes, window blinds and public benches.”

Moving towards a circular economy is essential for combating the issue of waste. Speaking at the CII conference on Waste to Worth, Prof Ajay K Sood, Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government of India said that the waste market is expected to be about $54 billion soon, which can be a huge opportunity. He spoke about the opportunities that lie in the e-waste sector. The world is generating almost billions worth of electronic waste that contains about 10 billion worth of precious metals, gold, platinum and other.

Recently, the European Commission has proposed revised EU rules to reduce packaging, make it reusable and boost recycling. The aim is to make packaging fully recyclable by 2030. The Commission proposes banning certain types of single-use packaging for food and beverages in restaurants and fresh fruits and vegetables, miniature packing for shampoo and putting the packaging sector on track for climate neutrality by 2050.

What it means is: Reduce will cut back on the amount of trash generated, reuse will find new ways to use things thrown out and recycling will turn old and useless into new and useful.

“Our proposals today reduce packaging waste, promote reuse and refill, increase the use of recycled plastics, and make it easier to recycle packaging. European citizens are eager to be rid of overpackaging and unnecessarily bulky packages, and businesses are ready to move forward with sustainable, innovative packaging solutions and systems,” said Frans Timmermans, executive vice-president for the European Green Deal in a statement.

Amazon uses plastic packaging that is recyclable and innovated and invested in technologies, processes, and materials that have helped reduce the weight of the packaging per shipment by 38% and eliminated the use of more than 1.5 million tonne of packaging materials since 2015, despite the number of shipments having substantially increased as our business has grown.

Waste generated at construction and demolition sites can be put to good use in an environment-friendly way, thereby reducing the air pollution. Godrej Construction is minimising the adverse impact of construction on the environment and has recycled over 25,000 metric tonne of concrete debris. Godrej Construction’s Ready Mix Concrete (RMC) plant and Recycled Concrete Materials (RCM) plant at Vikhroli West in Mumbai are 100% powered by renewable energy, providing resource conservation.

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First published on: 19-03-2023 at 01:15 IST
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