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BW Businessworld

Contrary To Popular Belief, Plastics Have A Very Good Environmental Profile: Vikram Bhadauria, ALOK

Plasticulture applications improve productivity and can help reduce dependence on unpredictable monsoons. It also allows a farmer to extract maximum benefit from the land in a sustainable manner

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As the plastic industry continues to make strides in the economic development and growth of sectors like Infrastructure, healthcare, automotive or construction industry in the country, it has a huge unrealized growth potential in the agriculture space. Plastics are gradually becoming the material of choice for extensive usage due to their unique and diverse set of properties. The plastics processing industry has grown at a CAGR of 10% in volume terms from 8.3 MMTPA in FY10 to 13.4 MMTPA in FY15 and is expected to grow at a CAGR of approximately 10.5% from FY15 to FY20 to reach 22 MMTPA (according to FICCI). However, despite these factors, the plastic industry faces many challenges in terms of environmental myths, lack of advanced technology, limited infrastructure, etc. In the context, ALOK is working towards innovating revolutionary solution for the Indian agriculture market in line with Government’s flagship initiative ‘Make in India’. In an exclusive interview with BW Businessworld, Mr. Vikram Bhadauria, Director – ALOK, discusses the innovations of ALOK, environmental myths faced by the plastic industry, and the challenges faced. Edited excerpts


What are the innovations and market demands which are driving the growth of plastics in the agriculture sector?

India’s dependence on agriculture and the monsoons have played a role in defining how the overall economy fairs. The current government is focused on doubling farmers’ income by 2022, however, the industry has to evolve and investment into innovations will be key to achieving this goal.

Plastics have the potential to offer solutions that are safer, sustainable and affordable right from farm to fork.

Plasticulture applications improve productivity and can help reduce dependence on unpredictable monsoons. It also allows a farmer to extract maximum benefit from the land in a sustainable manner. In post-harvest treatment, almost 40% of crops produced are lost due to inefficient storage, packaging and handling. As a solution, it offers crops the much-needed protection from direct contact with agrochemicals, maintains soil moisture and ensures optimum utilization of natural resources like water. I see plastics playing a key role in addressing and contributing significantly to the pressing needs of the agricultural sector.

What are some of the environmental myths that the plastic industry faces?

Development and growth of any industry will have an impact on the environment; the question is to what extent. Look at what plastics have done for the food industry through innovation in packaging. Often these perceptions are based on a superficial understanding of the actual facts.

Today’s plastics industry is far evolved and continues to make strides in the right direction. For example, disposal of plastics has been a concern and today the industry is using and moving to biodegradable plastics. The packaging of potato chips has seen improvements from seven layers to two layers of plastic, that is more durable and your chips remain fresh. Use of harmful elements in plastics are being done away with and there is a move to see how we can use and reuse much of the plastic products that are out there.

As champions of this industry, the onus is on us to drive and create awareness on the measures being taken, possible solutions and safe disposal of products being used. The industry needs to adopt a circular economic model that delivers economic, societal and environmental value for the near and long-term.

What are the advances in technological innovation which will change the market for plastics industry?

While globally, we are seeing an increased demand for plastics in medical and pharmaceutical products, we are also seeing a demand in various application sectors that are looking to focus on the cost efficiencies. The industry is moving towards providing vertical industries with a leverage in manufacturing competitiveness by co-creating solutions which serve an increasing local demand.

To serve this need we set up the ALOK Technology Incubation Centre (ATIC). The centre allows us to try new formulations and solutions on a limited scale, enabling repeated testing and improvements, till the time we get the desired results. It provides us with the platform from which we can benchmark innovations in the masterbatch industry and be the ‘solution providers’ and not mere ‘suppliers’.

What is the environmental suitability of plastics?

Contrary to popular belief, plastics have a very good environmental profile.  Only 4% of the world’s oil production is used for plastics and much less energy is used in its production compared to other materials.  Plastics are durable, lightweight and save extra freight in cars, aircraft, packaging and pipework. Possessing a higher calorific value in comparison to coal, plastics yield a cleaner environment, maximum efficiency and reduced energy cost to consumers.

When plastics have served their need, whether as a car bumper or a bottle, they can be recycled. Through source reduction, light weighting and recycling, plastics are helping address sustainability concerns across industries. By reducing environmental impact, improving performance and saving logistical costs plastics deliver an unparalleled value in any number of applications, ensuring a safer, sustainable and affordable solution for users.

What are some of the challenges faced by the plastics industry? 

An important challenge and opportunity for the industry is to work on integrating polymers into various sectors in an eco-friendly manner. Today, India is on the cusp of becoming a global innovation driver. With a renewed focus on developing circular economies, ease of doing business and protection of intellectual property by the current government, these will be the key drivers to unlocking innovation in India, for India and to the world.

Another challenge exists with the talent market out there. Every year, nearly 1.5 million new engineers step out into market fuelled by a desire to make a name for themselves in the industry. However, due to limited opportunities in innovation, research and development, they settle for conventional roles.

Lastly, we would need to find ways to collaborate better with government and industry associations. By sharing of best practices and developing a common agenda that looks to serve the needs of people we can unleash the true potential of this industry.