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2018 recap of CSR projects to manage plastic waste in India

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Waste is a big environmental challenge, for companies across the board. Leading Indian companies recognise waste management as a key issue. Plastic is used in various sectors such as building & construction, consumer products (such as furniture, housewares, automobiles, electronics, etc.), industrial goods (such as machines) and packaging.
Packaging forms the lion share in plastic consumption as the latter is a material of choice in nearly half of all packaged goods. Despite being a material with very useful properties, its omnipresence and non biodegradable nature are posing it as an environmental challenge, hence it needs to be managed responsibly.
Here’s what transpired in 2018 with respect to plastic waste in the corporate social responsibility (CSR) domain.

Indian Govt. introduces 3 components

In 2016, as part of the revision in the Plastic Waste Management rules, the Government introduced three key components, viz.
1. Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR),
2. phasing out of manufacture and use of non-recyclable multi-layered plastic and
3. reuse of plastic
A study of top 200 companies by IIM Udaipur and Futurescape found programs being initiated for the first and the third components, but nothing was disclosed for multi-layered plastic phasing out.
As part of EPR, companies (mostly consumer staples) have disclosed various reduce, reuse and recycle initiatives that they are planning to take or have started for managing plastic used in their products (mainly packaging).

Companies collecting consumer waste

For consumer waste collection, consumer staples companies are tying-up with both supply chain and third party service providers, says the joint report titled ‘Responsible Business Rankings 2018’. Coca-Cola India’s bottling partners work together with consumers, collection agencies, and authorized recycling partners to ensure that PET waste is collected and recycled to the extent possible. Dabur tied up with Indian Pollution Control Association (IPCA) and NEPRA for recycling plastic waste across nine states and is being expanded to more states.
On the basis of these and other programs, few manufacturing companies have disclosed tangible targets for the responsible management of plastic packaging. Coca-Cola aims to recycle a bottle or can for every one bottle or can that it sells globally by 2030. HUL and ITC target to make their plastic packaging fully reusable, recyclable or compostable in near future (HUL by 2025 and ITC in the next decade). P&G’s vision is to use 100% renewable or recycled materials for all products and packaging in the long-term. Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail aims to achieve 100% usage of sustainable material in its packaging by 2020. Tata Chemicals plans to have 100% recyclable or reusable packaging by 2020.

Recycling and upcycling

Some companies are taking baby steps to recycle plastic as an input in fibre, for making fuel and for making roads. Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail and Alok Industries upcycle PET bottles into staple fibres for creating sustainable apparel. GAIL is conducting research on conversion of waste plastic to diesel. Nestle India has installed a plant at its manufacturing facility in Tahilwal which converts laminate waste to fuel. BPCL has developed a technology that utilizes waste plastic for making roads.
Within the supply chain, only few companies reported plans to manage plastic responsibly. Tata Chemicals intends to re-use empty plastic drums in collaboration with its chemical supplier, Urefix. Ashok Leyland plans to minimize usage of packaging material like plastic in its supply chain. Coca-Cola intends to negotiate with its suppliers to keep packaging material in its supply chain, as part of its goal to recycle a bottle or can for every bottle or can that it sells globally by 2030.

Awareness and drives

While community plastic waste management resonates with the “Clean India” program, only a few companies reported projects here. And these are mostly for consumer awareness building and for plastic waste collection. Mahindra & Mahindra raised awareness about the ill effects of plastic on health and marine-life.
Coca-Cola India promotes recycling of PET bottles. HCL Technologies and Reliance Infrastructure conducted plastic waste collection drives. Federal Bank has opened a “Plastic Exchange Kiosk” at Sabarimala Temple to collect plastic covers and used bottles from pilgrims. Godrej Consumer Products’ municipal waste management project in Hyderabad and Guwahati recycles plastic waste into granules and converts the non-recyclable plastic waste into poly fuel.
In early 2018, PepsiCo said that all its packaging is recyclable or energy recoverable. It is planning to pilot the first-ever 100% compostable, plant-based packaging for Lay’s and Kurkure snacks products this year. Separately, state governments like Gujarat and some NGOs are installing reverse vending machines to recycle 8 plastic. Nestle India is extending its EPR in pact with other stakeholders to 12 states.

In conclusion

The multi-pronged approach for plastic management is likely to gain momentum across industries, especially consumer staples, in the wake of the ban on single-use plastic materials in at least five states and the ongoing negotiation between private players and authorities on the quantum of responsibility being shared for plastic waste management. Reducing, substituting, reverse collection, and collaboration could be the focus areas.

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