Plastic poses one of the stiffest environmental challenges today. Every year, Europe generates 25 million tonnes of plastic waste. According to one report, plastics make up 85% of beach litter but less than 30% is collected for recycling. The average Indian uses approximately 25 pounds of plastics each year, about a tenth of what an average American uses.
Recycling plastics provides a sustainable source of raw materials to the manufacturing industry. Since plastics are non-biodegradable, they pose a high risk to people and to the environment. They can block sewer drainage channels and other waterways.
There are certain plastics that can be recycled including Polyethylene Terephthalate, which is tough and acts as a barrier to moisture and gas. High Density Poly-ethylene, when re-cycled, is used in the manufacture of water, juice and milk bottles. It is also used to make retail and trash bags. Polyvinyl Chloride is versatile and can be bent easily. It is tough and used in the manufacture of juice bottles, PVC piping and cling films. Low Density Polyethylene is usually used in making frozen food bags, flexible container lids and freezable bottles.
When plastics are eliminated through recycling, the environment looks clean and habitable. Also recycling plastics minimises the amount of plastic being consumed in landfill sites. When plastics are recycled abundantly, these landfill sites will receive little plastic garbage and can be better used for agriculture or for human settlement.
Plastic bags pose a serious threat to the environment along with plastic products made from polyvinyl chloride, such as shower curtains, piping, window frames and some toys which cannot be recycled as well.
Plastic waste management in India can create jobs in the country which produces over 15,000 tonnes of plastic waste per day out of which only 60% is recycled. Saurabh Manuja, an expert from The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) said that recycling plastic waste can create six times more jobs than simply dumping the plastic. As per 2017 figures, India produced 15,722 tonnes of plastic per day.
India isn’t alone in its efforts to deal with plastic waste. About 75% of plastic waste in the U.S. ends up in landfills, and less than 10% is successfully recycled. A growing number of cities in the U.S. and Europe have banned single-use plastic bags.
Some cities and regions of India have banned ultra-thin bags – which are made of polyethylene, a non-biodegradable petrochemical product – and metropolitan areas and both state and the national governments are trying to enforce this ban.
Banyan Nation, a plastics recycling start-up from Hyderabad, is known for its work with Tata Motors in recycling automotive bumpers and for working with the French cosmetics company L’Oréal to recycle shampoo bottles. But its true innovation lies in its efforts to address the three key challenges in plastics recycling in countries like India – addressing the “last-mile” of the waste through a digital network; developing a strategy for cleaning and sorting the plastic waste economically to ensure creation of a secondary-use pellet that was comparable to primary plastic; and lastly partnering with large state-wide entities and multi-national corporations towards the waste-to-product recycling for e-waste, automobile parts and consumer products packaging. It has developed a data intelligence platform —mostly in South India — that can collect recyclable plastic, and a cleaning technology that ensures the input for recycling is of good quality.
The Indian government however has set the goal of doubling the per capita plastics consumption by 2022, presumably a measure for economic advancement and increased advanced manufacturing.
But there is still hope. “If something can be recycled,” says Mani Vajipey, Founder, Banyan Nation, “they will be picked up in India.” A study by Magesh Nandagopal, scientist at the National Chemical Laboratory (NCL) in Pune, found that 60-70% of PET bottles in India are recycled into other products and its recycled products are increasingly used in polyester fibres that can be used as textiles. The recycled PET bottles become clothing, sofa covers, or pillow stuffing.