CII International Waste to Worth Conference: Creating a circular economy for plastics

The Confederation of India Industry (CII) in association with Technology Development Board, GoI and supported by Swachh Bharat Mission, Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, GoI is organizing the International Conference and Exhibition on Waste to Worth from 30 October to 15 November. As official media partners, SolidWasteIndia has been bringing you detailed news and information from the event.

Concurrent to the conference and exhibition, a webinar was organised on the topic, Circular Economy in Plastics Waste: New Products, Rules and Policies yesterday. The session focussed on challenges and opportunities for having a circular future for plastics, the industry’s efforts on circular economy and need for defining stakeholder roles. Here are some of the key points raised by the speakers.

  • Mr. Ulhas Parlikar, Global Consultant, Waste Management, Circular Economy, Policy Advocacy, AFR & Co-processing

Acknowledging the efforts of the panellists towards contributing to a circular economy in the plastics sector, Mr Parlikar emphasized how plastic is a useful material which lends itself easily to a sustainable circular economy. “The problem is not plastic itself, but the waste we are creating from it. The resource value in plastic waste can be harnessed well if we put in a little effort. This is where new innovative processes and thinking are required,” said Mr Parlikar. 

  • Ms. Juhi Gupta, Head – Sustainability, PepsiCo

“PepsiCo believes in creating a world where plastics can never become a waste. Our philosophy rests on three pillars: 1) Reduce. For instance, minimize packaging to ease the pressure on virgin plastics; 2) Boost recycling. Globally, we are working to enhance recycling operations and structures to forge partnerships with concerned city, state and national authorities; 3) Reinvent. Apart from plastic, we have hydration platforms like Sodastream (not launched in India yet) which help reduce plastic consumption and production. 

“In terms of EPR, we have achieved 100 percent PET collection and recycling in a few states already. The key to better plastic waste management lies in source segregation. We are trying to work on various avenues through which consumers can understand and see what is the value of end-of-life PET management. A key focus area is on creating consumer awareness through cleanathons, beach cleaning drives, and school-level programs. For instance, we showed school students in Darjeeling, a t-shirt made out of six PET bottles to demonstrate opportunities in recycling,” shared Ms Gupta.

  • Mr. Prabhjot Sodhi, Head – Circular Economy, UNDP
UNDP is running a plastic waste management program in India in partnership with major brands

Mr Sodhi spoke at length about his long experience with plastic waste management in India. “With the help of donors, UNDP India is trying to demonstrate how infrastructure investments can be made in a decentralized manner with technical solutions at the Material Recovery Centers in 40 cities. These are resilient systems through which we can address the SDGs in an integrated manner. However, there are many challenges we face, such as the level of contamination in recycling material and the inclusion of informal waste workers in the waste value chain. We have no system of investment towards inclusive growth where waste pickers can be given basic living rights. We need socially responsible business models with incentives to ensure that basic standards are maintained,” Mr Sodhi said.

Regarding EPR implementation, Mr Sodhi wondered about the ground-level impact of PROs. “Who is really benefitting from these consortiums? Also, are we creating a level playing field for all stakeholders? Are companies really investing in collection, segregation and operating systems or are they investing in PROs that are mere trading instruments? How much are PROs even investing in the system for long-term thinking rather than sporadic thinking,” he asked. 

Mr Sodhi also suggested that incentives should be given to those who are recycling and reducing the use of virgin plastic. “Are we really prepared for minimization and to use recycled plastic within the system?” he asked, underlining the need for sustainability in a circular economy linking redesigning, reducing, recycling, recovery, and residual waste management. “While waste generation across India is growing, ULBs have little control on the waste fee collection system. For instance, why should producers only be billed? The public also needs to pay and engaged in a way that littering stops,” Mr Sodhi said. 

  • Ms. Garima Singh, Head – Government Affairs, Mondelez International

“Mondelez International’s vision is that plastic should not end up in landfills or oceans,” began Ms Singh. “We are working hard to achieve a waste-free future based on the 3R principles: reduce, reuse and recycle. In 2013, Mondelez made a global commitment to reduce plastic packaging. To date, we have successfully removed 65,000 million kg of plastic packaging worldwide and India has been a significant contributor towards this.”

Listing out some of the challenges in adhering to the EPR rules, Ms Singh said that various state governments and UTs have unique definitions for ‘single-use plastic’. Highlighting the need for uniformity in policymaking, Ms Singh said there should be a central body through which concerned authorities and all other stakeholders come under one umbrella. “This is critical towards achieving a circular economy in plastic waste management. An unprecedented collaboration is required across industries and geographies, in addition to public and private partnerships.”

•  Mr. Rahul Poddar, Managing Director – The Shakti Plastic Industries

“The entire value chain benefits with better material recovery in a circular economy,” emphasized Mr Poddar. “At Shakti Plastics, we are recycling all types of plastic waste, including MLPs which are normally described as non-recyclable. The problem is that, in India, we don’t find good technologies to convert non-recyclables into recyclable materials and products. We need the support of brand-owners to invest in the recycling stream so that the right technology can be used to upscale the quality of waste and convert it into granules that are comparable to virgin material,” said Mr Poddar. 

“We also need to invest in the research and development of testing and improving the quality of recyclables. For instance, their strength, colour, variations, etc because our waste input is inconsistent,” Mr Poddar said. Banning plastic is not a solution, he opined. “While the Government’s EPR policy has contributed to a huge growth in the plastic recycling business, there is an opportunity to look at the entire policy framework for a circular economy. Among other measures, the government must support the trading of plastic granules and promote various products made from recycled waste like flower pots, boats etc.” 

The hour-long panel discussion also saw an agreement among the panellists on the need to involve Indian consumers and develop a culture of proper waste collection and segregation in the country.

Picture Credit: Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

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