Committing to 100% plastic waste recycling and processing
Plastic has given consumers innumerable conveniences over the past decades – it is lightweight, waterproof, easy to produce, and can take unique and branded shapes. However, today, the negative impact of plastic on the environment is a global concern. The sheer volume of plastics and microplastics produced and consumed often find their way into natural habitats, aquatic and terrestrial and threatens to become part of the Earth's fossil record and a marker of the Anthropocene, our current geological era.
The world produces about 300 million tonnes of plastic each year, nearly equal to the weight of the entire earth’s population. India’s plastic waste more than doubled in the past five years to 34 lakh tonnes. To address this issue, a two-pronged action is needed – to design plastics packaging for sustainability and most urgent, to manage existing plastic waste through a circular economy of collection, recycle, reuse, repurpose by deploying a variety of models.
At HCCB, we are deeply aware of our responsibility to the ecosystem and committed to doing our part to solve the world’s plastic and packaging crises. In 2018, we launched World Without Waste, our ambition to work towards a circular economy. As one of India’s largest FMCG companies, we are committed to attaining 100% collection and recycling or processing of plastic, even though EPR (Extended Producer Responsibility) targets are set at 70% in 2022.
Setting up an end-to-end recycling ecosystem conjoined with the informal sector
Recycling is a critical part of HCCB’s journey towards a low-carbon future. The plastics that we use are are high quality and highly recyclable - more than 90% are high quality rigid or flexible that can be recycled within a circular economy. The rest is safely accounted for and sent for road making or to cement kilns.
The challenge we faced was, in gaining full visibility of the collection process within the recycling ecosystem, which is largely an informal sector. Our EPR obligations require us to collect the targeted quantities of plastics and send them to a recycler. However, several times, the waste was not properly segregated by the collectors and agencies and hence, needlessly sent to landfills or end of the life processing. We realized that we needed a socio-technical model - one that caters to the economic welfare of all parties involved in the recycling chain - to establish a sustainable, end-to-end plastic waste recycling ecosystem.
Recycling 100% of the plastic we use
In 2021, HCCB used 113,000MT of plastic and collected 100% of this, including 100% of PET (Polyethylene terephthalate). How did we do this? The model that we set up works closely for the welfare of everyone involved in the recycling chain. We work with Safai Sathis (rag pickers) to improve their livelihood through financial inclusion and ensuring health and safety as well as social security. We then incentivize collection from urban local bodies as well as from waste aggregators, who have established mechanisms for collecting high-value PET and other rigid plastics. Material Recovery Centers (Swacchta Kendra) are set up which are equipped with machines for sorting, cleaning, shredding, bailing, and agglomeration of plastic waste for back-end recyclers. Working in sync with the government’s mandate for ensuring traceability of the entire recycling process, HCCB is partnering with IT developers to create an app that can be used across the value chain from collection to the end recyclers. In addition, we also invest in knowledge management, monitoring, and communication to sensitize citizens and increase involvement in the waste ecosystem. This connected ecosystem has enabled HCCB to create circular models such as the “Baler” model, to empower aggregators of plastic waste to send the waste directly to authorized recyclers.
So, coming back to how we recycled 113,000MT of plastic in 2021. The model we invested in over the past few years today covers more than 22 cities in 20 states. It employs 6250 Safai Sathis (60% women), 102 Self Help Groups and works in partnership with 28 municipal corporations and 45 city implementation partners. In addition, models such as the “Baler” model have incentivised aggregators to attract high quality plastics to their locations through local Safai Sathis for a more value added segregated and recycled stream through authorized recyclers. This vast ecosystem is seeing results because everyone involved in the process is engaged and incentivized.
When it comes to a litter-free world, no effort is enough
We are making further efforts to fine-tune and expand our recycling ecosystem. We are exploring monitoring and verification of the flow of plastic from collection centers to final destinations at authorized recyclers through digital and blockchain-based methods. In addition, we have started on a plan to install 500 balers (machines that help compact plastic) in the next 3 years across India which will help us collect and recycle 150,000 MT of PET waste.
HCCB has more than 90% rigid and around 6% flexible plastics – all are of high value and recyclable. Currently, the recycling chain ends with plastics being used in the textile or the fibre industry. For our operations to be circular and move towards a zero-waste status, we are working towards bottle-to-bottle recycling, where these plastics re-enter the Coca-Cola plastics value chain as recycled content (rPET). In fact, we have successfully conducted trials to use 20% of recycled flexible plastics in our secondary and tertiary plastics such as shrink wrap and stretch wrap. This will be further scaled this up in the future.
With the bottle-to-bottle recycle law being approved by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) in the Plastic Waste Management (PWM) 2016 (as amended), food-grade recycled packaging is also now approved by FSSAI. HCCB will now explore this with recyclers, to incorporate recycled plastics into the bottles as well, which will not only enable us to achieve beyond the targets set by the law, but help us transcend to becoming one of the most “circular” companies in India.
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