Coca-Cola and partners to turn plastic waste into wealth, dream of litter-free Mumbai gets a boost

Caps. T-shirts. Jackets. Shoes. Toys. Flowerpots. Cloth hangars. Bins. Containers. Sports goods.

That is hardly a laundry list of things that can be expected to be seen when visiting the site of a recycling project. But when Maharashtra Government Environment Minister Ram Das Kadam and Yuva Sena Chief Aditya Thackeray reached there, all these could be seen around them.

What also caught their attention was a sleek, sturdy bench that looked like it had come from an art gallery. They soon learnt that the raw material used for making the bench had spent its formative years at a plastic recycling site and derived its strength from used plastic waste. It did not take Kadam and Thackeray too long to insist that they would conduct their briefing meeting for the day on this very bench.

For anyone who had concerns around the disposal of used plastic waste, this was the perfect place to be. The dignitaries discussed ways to recycle plastic and its responsible disposal so that all of it gets put to good use in Mumbai. Plastic, in its various forms, is often seen as a problem for urban agglomerations and cities.

Sift through the statistics available in the public domain and the challenge seems less daunting. According to data from PET Packaging Association for Clean Environment (PACE) and the Indian Centre for Plastic in the Environment (ICPE), for the city of Mumbai, 80 per cent of the plastic waste is already being recycled. Nearly 10 per cent is being re-used for storage of water and oil, in consumables and other similar products. It is the remaining 10 per cent that shows up on the streets, which is creating havoc in the city, choking pipes, drains, or lying wasted in parks, gardens and beaches.

Leading policymakers and industry leaders are now looking to complete the circle and solve the problem for this 10 per cent of the plastic.

PET Recycling Project - An Initiative by Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages

One of the potential solutions is a pilot project that Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages (HCCB) has initiated in 10 of the 24 municipal wards of Mumbai, partnering with the likes of UNDP and Stree Mukti Sangathana. The political leaders along with Marina Walter, Country Director, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP); Jyoti Mapsekar, Founder, Stri Mukti Sangathana; SK Rai, Secretary, Indian Centre for Plastics in the Environment (ICPE); Erwan Carpentier Tomasi, Senior VP and General Counsel, Mindtree; and Christina Ruggiero, CEO, Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages, had gathered to inaugurate the pilot project.

The project is a multi-stakeholder partnership to create a sustainable value-chain in plastic recycling.

Over the next few months, several steps are to be taken in the selected municipal wards. The current infrastructure of ICPE to recycle plastic waste will be upgraded. Waste pickers will be brought under a structured programme and recyclers for all seven types of plastic waste will be included in the formal recycling program. In collaboration with the municipal corporation, a massive awareness campaign on waste segregation and plastic recycling will commence.

A technology platform, specially created under this project, will track progress and report on performance. According to early estimates, nearly 9-10 tons of plastic could be collected every day. Some of that will be converted into useful products like T-shirts, fabric, backpacks, while the hard-to-recycle, low-end plastics like carry bags and laminates can be used to manufacture compressed boards, for co-incineration in cement kilns, road laying and pyrolysis.

Christina Ruggiero, Aditya Thackeray and Ramdas Kadam at Plastic Recycling Initiative Launch

Together, everyone is hoping to develop a model of circular economy for plastic waste by generating value out of used plastic and reducing litter. Because PET is lightweight, has high strength and is easy to process, plastic meets a large share of the material needs of man, at a comparatively lesser cost and with fewer environmental implications. Unfortunately, some forms of plastic and PET end up in landfills or by the roadside.

“One of the first things that I noticed about India is our ability to generate wealth from waste and the resultant value chain that can be set up around this process. PET is one of those game-changing innovations of humankind that makes our lives more convenient and has a significant post-use value. Through this project, we are trying to capitalise on India’s inherent strength and PET’s unique value proposition to create a win-win for everyone,” Christina said in her message for the event.