An Effective Clean Plastic Recycling and Segregation Can Help Minimise Pollution

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Anjana Ghosh

Plastic is one of the most amazing inventions by man. It was developed a little over a century ago. It has helped make the modern world possible as humans have come to depend on it in all spheres of life. Its inherent versatility is a huge advantage as it can be tailored to meet specific needs. Combined with its easy availability, affordability and longevity, it has led to an exponential rise in its use and consumption over the years. Plastic is hailed as a scientific wonder. Now that is one side of the story. The other is the grave issue of pollution. Every day we come across visuals that showcase the malignant nature of plastic and how it is harming our environment. 

Plastic pollution is a massive crisis faced by people across the globe. According to the UNEP, plastic waste generation has tripled in the last two decades, along with a rise in plastic production. Today, almost 300 million tonnes of plastic waste is produced every year – this is equivalent to the weight of the entire human population. However, the bigger issue is that the plastic that is used and discarded ends up in the environment. 

India’s plastic pollution is a formidable challenge. The biggest issue that the country faces with plastic waste management is absolute ignorance among the general public about the appropriate methods of segregation, disposing and recycling. If India aspires to manage waste to its desired levels, then we have to educate people, create awareness that plastic is not waste; it is valuable. 

Plastic makes up for the largest contributors to ocean pollution as it is carried into the ocean through rivers that carry plastic waste from inland. What makes plastic pollution an even bigger issue is that due to its durability and resistance to degradation, it becomes difficult or rather impossible to break it down through the natural process of degradation. Although plastic does not degrade, it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces. These small pieces, or microplastics, enter our food chain through water, farm animals or fish. In major cities, water logging is one of the biggest issues, and plastic waste is a major contributor to it. Used plastic bags, plastic cutlery, plastic bottles and packaging clog the drainage because they are not disposed of properly. The clogged sewers become breeding grounds for mosquitoes and pests. 

India’s plastic pollution is a formidable challenge. The biggest issue that the country faces with plastic waste management is absolute ignorance among the general public about the appropriate methods of segregation, disposing and recycling. If India aspires to manage waste to its desired levels, then we have to educate people, create awareness that plastic is not waste; it is valuable. According to a 2019-20 report by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), which collates data from 60 major cities in India, the country generates around 26,000 tonnes of plastic waste a day, of which, 60 per cent is recycled. Even developed countries like Germany recycle only 56 per cent of their plastics. But the current methodology of scavenging plastic from roadside litter and dump yards makes it impossible to recycle 100 per cent of plastic. The remaining plastic – 40 per cent – ends up in landfills, littered on the streets, water bodies, etc. Close to 80 per cent of dry waste generated daily is plastic. If this is properly managed, then the rest is not difficult at all. Not cleaning and segregating plastic at the source leads to a major plastic crisis which is not just prevalent in India but across the globe. There is an urgent need to resolve this crisis through methods that are sustainable and effective.

As an industry leader and India’s most trusted brand of bottled water, we at Bisleri, have been actively working towards the cause of a cleaner and greener environment. We are spreading awareness about the importance of plastic recycling through our ‘Bottles for Change’ initiative. This initiative aims at educating and changing the behaviour of citizens on efficient disposal by cleaning the plastic after use, segregating and sending it for recycling.

Thinking of plastic as waste and banning its use is not the solution to the problem because plastic and its products are an integral part of our daily lives. This makes it critical for us to think of the best solution to the problem of plastic pollution, which is recycling plastic. About 60 per cent of plastic is recycled, but the method in which it is done is wrong and filthy. There is a need to make simple changes in our daily lives. It starts with our homes. People can segregate their used plastic and clean it. This used plastic is then handed to their janitors or housekeeping team separately who then send them for recycling.

As an industry leader and India’s most trusted brand of bottled water, we at Bisleri, have been actively working towards the cause of a cleaner and greener environment. We are spreading awareness about the importance of plastic recycling through our ‘Bottles for Change’ initiative. This initiative aims at educating and changing the behaviour of citizens on efficient disposal by cleaning the plastic after use, segregating and sending it for recycling. After the plastic is sent to recyclers, the process includes cleaning the plastic, cutting it into flakes and then melting it at high temperature for moulding it into desirable use. The idea behind the initiative was to practice what we preach, that all types of plastics post its use are not waste. They are valuable. Where old newspaper fetches Rs 6 to Rs 8 per kg, single-use PET bottles fetch a value of INR 15 per kg post use.

Bottles For Change also helps green agents (rag pickers) to earn more because the plastic is clean. They earn Rs. 350 to 400/- as compared to around Rs. 200/- per day by scavenging plastic from roadside litter and dump yards. The Kabadiwala and the Recycler all make more money. India has 4.5 million rag pickers and 1.5 million kabadiwalas or scrap dealers who are engaged in scavenging plastic for recycling. This initiative also provides them with hygienic working conditions, a more dignified life, and support for educating their children through our NGO partners.

Our project aims to bring about a habitual change in society to enable people to clean the plastic, segregate it from their waste and send it for recycling. We believe that society must stop treating plastic as waste and find solutions to dispose of it responsibly.

Since its inception, we have conducted over 600 plastic recycling awareness events and workshops in corporate offices, housing societies, schools and colleges. The programme is active in seven cities with over 6,00,000 citizens, 800 housing societies, 500 corporates, 500 hotels, 400 colleges and 3,00,000 students participating. It has helped recycle more than 6,500 tonnes of plastic.

As a part of this effort, we also made uniforms for the sales team from used PET bottles. Across India, 5,000 employees are presently wearing these shirts, upholding the vision of sustainability.

Taking a step further, on World Environment Day, we inaugurated India’s first clean plastic segregation and collection centre in Marol, Mumbai. The interiors of the space have been created using 1,50,000 MLP (Multi-layer plastic) recycled bags (biscuits, chips and chocolate wrappers) as partitions. For 100 sq. ft. area, 100kgs of recycled hard plastic blocks (hard plastics like juice container, food container, toys, shampoo and conditioner bottles, etc.) have been used to build the entrance ramp, which is strong enough and has the load-bearing capacity of up to 30 tonnes of vehicles. This Plant can process and segregate 25 tons of plastic per month, which means 300 tons of plastic per year can be recycled if proper waste management methods are followed. This revolutionary facility also serves as a destination to educate citizens on the importance of plastic segregation and recycling. The Centre displays information about habitual change, various recycling processes and also exhibits a range of products that can be made using recycled plastic. Aesthetics are not left behind here. The Plant also houses a conveyor belt with a bailing machine to process the plastic before it is sent for recycling. Most importantly, it also ensures clean surroundings and hygienic working conditions for green plastic agents. 

Our project aims to bring about a habitual change in society to enable people to clean the plastic, segregate it from their waste and send it for recycling. We believe that society must stop treating plastic as waste and find solutions to dispose of it responsibly.

We have touched over six lakh individuals, 800 housing societies, 400 schools and colleges, 500 hotels and restaurants, 500 corporates, and 600 awareness sessions. Our initiative has also created a channel and opportunity for plastic agents to collect used but clean plastic (hard and soft) through various stakeholders. It also aims to drive home the message of social change and help empower green plastic agents.

Our multi-city awareness drive spans citizens, corporates and institutions. We are actively working with Mumbai Municipal Corporation, Panvel Municipal Corporation, Thane Municipal Corporation, Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation and Vasai Virar Municipal Corporation, South Delhi Municipal Corporation, East Delhi Municipal Corporation and North Delhi Municipal Corporation. In Mumbai, we have worked with corporates such as Indian Oil, Western Railways, NSS Wing of Mumbai University, Bombay Stock Exchange, Godrej, JP Morgan, Tata Consultancy Services, amongst others. Currently, in Chennai, we are working with Power Grid Corporation of India, Sundaram Medical Foundation, amongst others. 

As a part of Swachha Sarvekshan Abhiyan, Delhi has adopted plastic recycling and waste management education through the various municipal corporations in South, East and North Delhi (SDMC, EDMC and NDMC). The authorities have been an active part of our initiative, which is a testament to our efforts. We hope that this will encourage local authorities in other cities as well. Municipal authorities in Mumbai, Thane and Navi Mumbai, who have been a part of Bottles for Change for over two years now have observed positive changes and a gradual perception shift in terms of plastic segregation and disposal.

We have touched over six lakh individuals, 800 housing societies, 400 schools and colleges, 500 hotels and restaurants, 500 corporates, and 600 awareness sessions. Our initiative has also created a channel and opportunity for plastic agents to collect used but clean plastic (hard and soft) through various stakeholders. It also aims to drive home the message of social change and help empower green plastic agents.

Additionally, Bottles for Change has introduced a mobile app for the citizens of Mumbai that aims to bring citizens and plastic collecting agents (Kabadiwallahs/NGOs) on one platform. The app provides a hassle-free option for citizens to search and approach nearby plastic agents to hand over clean plastic.

Furniture made from recycled plastic

Anjana Ghosh is the Director of Marketing and Our Social Responsibility, Bisleri International Pvt. Ltd.