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‘Everything That We Do Should Be Environmentally Regenerative’

Plastics take over 500 years to start decomposing. The first plastics were only created about 70 years back and hence it is a long time before even the first begins to decompose

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As per recent reports in India, over 15,000 tonnes of plastic waste is generated every day, of which 6,000 tonnes remain uncollected and littered. Yash Papers, a company associated with the manufacture of paper using bio-degradable material, has come up with a new range of tableware ‘Chuk’ to help reduce use of plastics.

 In an exclusive interview with BW Businessworld, Ved Krishna, Head of strategy, Yash Papers speaks about his initiatives in this regard; need to raise awareness against the use of plastics; sustainable packaging solutions and more. Edited excerpts:

You are a company committed to the mission of creating a safer and greener planet. How do you think business and environment can go hand in hand?

Doing well is deeply connected with life and whatever we do. Business is a part of life and it becomes far more rewarding when it aligns well with our purpose. Our vision is not only to build a profitable business but to also leave behind a cleaner planet as we build a sustainable business. We do not want to just focus on short term goals; we also want to educate the community on the importance of being environmentally responsible in a fun and friendly way. As a company, we are strongly committed to raising awareness against the use of plastics and the harm it causes to the ecosystem.

What have been the positive outcomes of your initiatives?

It has literally felt like being in a symphony being played by the universe once we have aligned our purpose with work. Ideas come in as do people and opportunities. We could not have imagined the reality we live in today a few years back. We have received positive feedback and support on our initiatives from government officials, educational institutes as well as our clients. We have also managed to connect with companies like Foodpanda who share a similar vision like us and this has enabled us to form strategic partnerships as well in order to take our goal further.

How does your company help raise awareness against the use of plastics and the harm it causes to the ecosystem?

We believe in positive activism. We believe in solutions. The fundamental idea for us is to work towards and provide human kind with better alternative solutions. We are deeply injured by the absolutely arbitrary usage of plastics without understanding the harm it causes to our beautiful planet. We ourselves are guilty of the same. We need to keep becoming more aware and keep finding solutions that would enable others to make a shift. In order to achieve our goal of raising awareness against the use of plastics, we plan to roll out a series of educative initiatives in phases. Our first step is to reach out to industry players from the food and hospitality segment to communicate the problem at hand and make them aware of alternate solutions which are not only environment-friendly but also price competitive. Our second step is to target educational institutions pan India where we can talk about the importance of imparting awareness on sustainable living amongst children at a young age so that our future is secure.

The company has come up with a new compostable range of tableware made from sugarcane waste. How has the response been and how does it take your mission forward?

CHUK Tableware products are made from sugarcane waste called Bagasse, a renewable source, which is left over after sugarcane stalks are crushed to extract the juice. Bagasse pulp makes products lightweight for ease in handling, flexible to protect from damage, and strong to prevent spillage and also makes them suitable for use in microwave ovens to heat food. Our products are also 100 per cent compostable and decompose within months in backyard compostable systems.

What makes these products attractive is not only that they are environment-friendly but also that they are very price competitive. We have been completely overwhelmed by the initial response. It is truly humbling. It feels like people were just waiting to find an alternate solution. The reality will be clearer as we begin to shift products and engage with customers. I am sure we will face our set of obstacles and work on overcoming them. The CHUK range of products is completely aligned with our vision as it works on providing an alternate to styrofoam which is noxious both for the earth as well as our health.

How do you see the growth of sustainable packaging solutions in India?

This is a tough call. It is really needed in our nation as our regulatory implementation and sanitary habits are both poor. I don’t think this will happen merely through awareness as most decisions are taken keeping in mind personal business interests, not the larger good. We will need more effective regulation for any lasting change. Else, we will all continue to burden ourselves and our beautiful planet through harmful substances.

India is looking forward to 100 Smart Cities but the amount of plastic waste being generated in India is humongous. How do you think it can be controlled?

Plastics take over 500 years to start decomposing. The first plastics were only created about 70 years back and hence it is a long time before even the first begins to decompose. If we look at the problem at a global level, we have already created over 8.3 billion tonnes of plastics (over 50 per cent of that in the last 13 years!). This is equal to over 1 billion elephants in terms of size! 35 per cent of the plastic used is single time use which cannot be recycled. As per recent reports in India, more than 15,000 tonnes of plastic waste is generated every day, of which 6,000 tonnes remain uncollected and littered. This problem definitely needs to be controlled, but we need more strength and practicality in governance. We cannot compromise. We need to leave behind a cleaner planet for the generations to come. Companies like ours will build alternative solutions but would need supportive regulations for real change to come around.

What steps do you think the government should take to help in this regard?

Styrofoam is carcinogenic. By eating from tableware or containers made from this material, we are putting carcinogens in our body without realising it. This is a well-proven fact. Styrene is used to make styrofoam and other plastics and is also known to leach out of foam food containers and cups when hot food or drinks are put in. These products need to be banned immediately. We need to also ban single use plastics as we have no real collection mechanisms in place for downcycling (recycling is a misnomer). We need to encourage innovation in the space of sustainability and regeneration and we need to encourage those who work on solutions. The lack of awareness and absence of effective tools to collect back the discarded plastic products including the wrapping material has led to the indiscriminate littering and disposal of plastic waste. Government bodies need to work on a solution to closely monitor the situation, and roll out a sustained campaign to promote the use of alternatives, for a long-term solution.

So, say, five years down the line, will we see more and more companies venturing in this space and working for environmental sustainability?

I believe everything that we do should be environmentally regenerative. We need to give back more than we take from Mother Earth. Environmental Regeneration needs to be built into all that we do. Sustainability is not enough. My hope is that in five years all industries would be giving back more than they take in from the planet. There would not be a special set of environmentally friendly businesses.