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"People Need To Bring A Behavioural Change Towards Disposing Of Used Plastic", Says, CEO, Bisleri International Pvt. Ltd.

We use the material unconsciously without knowing its impact. It can be reused and upcycled in multiple forms due to its adaptability. It produces less energy to manufacture a plastic bottle than a glass bottle.

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In an interaction with Urvi Shrivastav, Editorial Lead, BW ESG, BW Businessworld; Angelo George, CEO, Bisleri International Pvt. Ltd. speaks about the importance of recycling plastic and Bisleri's role in promoting the same.

What contributes to the enormous amount of plastic generation in India?

India has witnessed an exponential rise in used plastic due to rapid urbanization and growth in the retail and e-commerce industry. It is used widely in the food industry as a packaging material, preventing deterioration and prolonging the product’s shelf life.

According to the Plastic Industry Status Report 2021, India’s plastic demand was 20.89Mn tones, projected to exceed 22Mn tones by 2023. Plastic emits a lower carbon footprint compared to other packaging materials. The manufacture of plastic emits lesser CO2 than the carbon footprint of spoiled food. Also, one of the major reasons for plastic waste is that 50% of plastic is discarded after a single use. Therefore, the one-time use of plastic products raises the demand for more virgin plastic.

Describe in detail the need for perception and behavioural changes in the usage of plastic among consumers.

Plastic is an integral part of our lives, we use the material unconsciously without knowing its impact. It can be reused and upcycled in multiple forms due to its adaptability. It produces less energy to manufacture a plastic bottle than a glass bottle. Since plastic is lightweight, it takes less energy to transport a truckload of plastic bottles vis-a-vis glass bottles. Also, 40% less fuel is consumed in transporting drinks in plastic bottles compared to glass bottles. Besides, there is a risk of loss due to glass breakage and the mixing of different types and colours of glasses.

Thus, plastic is a valuable resource and needs to be appreciated and handled well. People need to bring a behavioural change towards disposing of used plastic, which is being dumped in landfills and entering the rivers and oceans. Research shows that 80 per cent of humans consciously litter. Hence, there is a need to bring a behavioural change in handling, recycling, and upcycling used plastic. Moreover, 88% less energy is consumed in recycling than in producing new plastic from raw materials.

There is an urgent need to make people understand the benefits of plastic recycling and bring a behavioural shift towards managing used plastic. Due to improper collection and segregation systems, the disposal of used plastic has become a serious concern. The surge in plastic usage, coupled with irresponsible behaviour towards discarding, littering and polluting, has had a fatal impact on the environment. Therefore, people need to play their role in closing the material loop by appropriately disposing of or repurposing plastic to help India achieve its circular economy goals by 2050.

Why is the segregation of PET bottles important from other plastic materials?

Segregating plastic and other waste material is essential for effectively applying the 3R formula - Reuse, Recycle, and Recovery (3R). One of the most recycled plastics today is PET plastic, produced mainly for beverages and other consumer goods. It is critical to separate PET from other plastics as PET is 100% recyclable. Cleaning, segregating at source and handing it directly for recycling can become an asset in creating a circular economy. Segregation of plastic will also help reduce contamination, boost recycling processes and lessen the amount of plastic ending up in the landfill.

How can PET bottles be converted into usable products such as fabric, handbags, window blinds, and benches?

PET is the most recycled plastic globally. The lifecycle of managing plastic from manufacturing to recycling has become highly efficient with the help of technology. As per a study in 2019 by CFTRI, PET has been established as a safe material, not leaching any toxic chemicals. Besides, compared to other plastic materials, PET is eco-friendly and can be upcycled easily into different new products, reducing manufacturing costs.

India is a huge market for recycling used plastic, with 33,000 recycling units and more than 90% of PET being recycled into opulent products. There are 4.5Mn rag pickers in the country who collect recyclable plastic and 1Mn kabadiwalas who purchase plastic from these recyclers to recreate new products using the same PET material. These PET bottles can be woven with natural or synthetic fibres to produce apparel, shoes and other high-value items. Hence, upcycled plastic lowers the stress on natural resources.

Besides, PET is also used to upcycle hard-bound industry products such as benches, paver blocks, amongst others. Recently, Bisleri International partnered with Ghaziabad Nagar Nigam and beautified a portion of the area with panels made from recycled plastic. It also has a vertical garden created of unused 20-litre plastic jars and 2-litre bottles.

Why is there a need for building a circular economy?

Circular economy helps restore and regenerate materials that are constantly flowing in a loop rather than being used once and discarded. For example, in the case of plastic, chemical recycling is a process that breaks the material down to its original form in order to be created again into a new product. This process not only helps eliminate waste but also reduces the need for new resources by keeping the same material in the system. It also has multiple benefits, such as mitigating the risks of environmental pollution, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, creating sustainable cities, reducing stress on resource generation and preventing its negative impact on biodiversity.

According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, India's circular economy development path could create an annual value of ₹14 lakh crore (US$218Bn) in 2030 and ₹40 lakh crore (US$624Bn) in 2050 in comparison to the current development scenario. However, to make this a reality, the ‘use and dispose of’ mindset needs to change. As an industry, we need to advocate recycling and create a market for sustainable and recycled materials. Producers of plastic, industries, the government, consumers and others part of the value chain need to come together with a promise to prevent the wave of discarded plastic by considering it a valuable resource, generating aspirations for higher value material.

Elaborate on the ‘Bottles for Change’ initiative by Bisleri and how it encourages a circular economy for plastics?

At Bisleri International, we are committed to ensuring zero plastic to landfill. Our initiative, ‘Bottles for Change,’ aims to educate the citizens about the importance of recycling plastic. Through the initiative, we strive to bring a behavioural change amongst people towards used plastic by not considering it as waste but segregating and sending it for recycling.

Lighter plastic material such as milk pouches, multi-layer packets, wrappers, PET bottles, and plastic bags has a larger consumption than other plastic materials. Since they are discarded as wet waste without cleaning, the waste pickers are unable to segregate it, eventually going to the dump yards. Under Bottles For Change, we ensure channelizing all kinds of used clean plastic for recycling. We have created a model for used plastic that follows a 3-stage process - cleaning the plastic, segregating it at the source and handing it over directly to neighbourhood kabadiwalas for recycling, preventing used plastic from ending up in landfills.

We are currently present across 9 corporations in 7 cities and are in the process of expanding the footprint to Bangalore, Hyderabad, and Pune. As of today, we cover over 2700 housing societies, 600 educational institutions, 500 corporates, 500 hotels, and restaurants that are disposing of used plastic under the aegis of this program. The model has helped bring behavioral change amongst 600,000 citizens through our awareness program. Besides, we have collected and recycled over 6500 tons of plastic. We have also collaborated with National Service Scheme (NSS) network at schools and colleges to educate students who have become ambassadors of this mission to recycle plastic in their communities.

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