Plastic waste as a resource to create a cleaner future

Plastic waste, when processed properly, can be reintroduced into the various manufacturing value chains that form the backbone of Indian industries.

India generates approximately 3.5 million tonnes of plastic waste every year.

By Rajesh Khosla

The Government of India (GoI) in July this year announced a blanket nationwide ban on single-use plastics close on the heels of India’s commitment at the COP26 summit to achieve ‘Net-Zero’ by 2070. , this is a firm example of the government’s commitment to ensuring a cleaner and greener future for future generations. The plastic recycling industry in India is estimated to grow at a rate of 6.5% and attain a market size of USD53.72 billion by 2023

India generates approximately 3.5 million tonnes of plastic waste every year. The per capita plastic waste generation has almost doubled over the last five years. It is a threat not only to the sensitive biomes but also to communities across geographies. But in this problem lies an opportunity.

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Plastic waste, when processed properly, can be reintroduced into the various manufacturing value chains that form the backbone of Indian industries. There has been a significant increase in the adoption of 3R (Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle) practices in households, commercial establishments and industries. First, people have begun to reduce their reliance on products made of plastic and have begun to increasingly adopt alternate material products.

Second, people have begun to reuse plastic.. Containers for FMCG goods, for example, once emptied of their original contents, are used for the storage of other commodities. Third, plastic waste is increasingly being recycled into other products and tools. It is not necessary that a plastic bottle may end up as a plastic bottle. There is a high chance that such waste may be moulded and recycled into something totally different than what it began its lifecycle as.

Given the government’s policy and awareness push, including the Swachh Bharat Mission, there has been a definite change in the handling of plastic waste. However, the zero-waste-to-landfill target for plastic waste is not easily achievable.

Humankind’s reliance on plastic does not allow for the overnight abandonment of one of the most useful materials of the past few centuries. However, the requirement for virgin plastic means that a huge strain is put on scant natural resources such as fossil fuels. The Indian industry – specifically the packaging sector – can innovate the use of alternate materials by introducing circular economy-based approaches to manufacturing.

The packaging industry is uniquely positioned to reduce the circulation of virgin plastic within various ecosystems by introducing circular economy-based approaches to manufacturing.

Plastic waste that has been properly processed, treated and upcycled can prove to be a low-cost input to produce new packaging components for various customers. Furthermore, the propensity of customers to consume commodities that are packaged in environmentally responsible containers may translate to increased sales.

Non-perishable packaging can also be returned to manufacturers, under possible buy-back schemes, for reuse in production chains. It creates a win-win situation for packaging manufacturers and customers since it cuts down on the need to source fresh raw materials. The approach offers numerous financial and environmental benefits for companies and communities.

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Plastic waste can be used to create fuel. Plastic broken down through thermo-catalytic depolymerisation techniques results in the creation of a clean-burning liquid poly-fuel. This fuel can be used to power almost anything—engines, stoves, generators, etc.—without harming the environment as conventional fuels do.

Re-introducing plastic into manufacturing value chains frees up the need for fossil fuels to produce virgin plastic. In an ideal scenario, it would eliminate the need for this amount of fossil fuel to be extracted from the Earth altogether.

Industry and government will need to work together as partners to achieve a tangible impact. While the government can help with the creation of fair, forward-looking regulations, the industry can aid this progress by complying with the law and increasing accountability and responsibility. While the foundation for such collaboration has already been created, there is a need now to build on it to create a cleaner, greener and environmentally responsible future for all.

(The author is President and CEO of AGI Greenpac. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of FinancialExpress.Com)

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