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Dr. Vikas Goswami

Dr. Vikas Goswami, Head Sustainability at Godrej Industries.

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The Corporate Way to Tackling Plastic

Educating the public to segregate and recycle waste is key to ending plastic pollution says Vikas Goswami, Head Sustainability - Good and Green, Godrej Industries Limited and Associate Companies (GILAC), ahead of Earth Day 2018

Photo Credit : Reuters,

Plastics have been in the news for a while now. Whether it is reports of plastic trash choking the oceans, the Maharashtra government’s plastic ban or fear over microplastics creeping into our food, the situation is alarming. 

The National Geographic estimates that almost 350 million tons of plastic is produced each year across the globe. What is alarming is that hardly any of this gets recycled. A huge chunk of the plastic waste ends up polluting the oceans or is dumped in landfills. The exponential growth of plastics is one of the biggest threats our planet currently faces. 

End Plastic Pollution, the theme for the 2018 edition of Earth Day – held each year on April 22 – rivets the spotlight on the need to end plastic pollution, eliminate single-use plastics, and the need for uniform regulation to tackle the disposal of plastics. Generating awareness about the health risks and other hazards associated with the use and disposal of plastics is also part of the Earth Day agenda. 

Educate and empower

India is not immune to the plastics plague; the country is both a contributor as well as a victim. The country generates around 25,940 tonnes of plastic waste daily, according to a 2015 Central Pollution Control Board study. Its 60 major cities contribute 4,059 tonnes of plastic waste per day, according to the report.  

India along with China has emerged as the biggest contributor of marine plastic litter, with more than 70% of the waste going untreated and disposed improperly. From clogging waste streams and landfills to littering its beaches and landscapes, India faces a gargantuan plastic problem. 

While governments in Maharashtra and other states have implemented laws to ban plastic bags, containers, flags, banners, etc. it is inadequate to combat the plastic menace.   

Concurrent with increasing segregation and recycling rates of plastic waste, behaviour change communication is a must for any lasting impact. It is imperative to sensitise the end consumer on discarding plastic: each plastic bag can be given at least 10 spins of life before it is thrown away. The micro-thin plastic bags that vegetables are bought in can be replaced with cloth bags. It means sacrificing convenience over a little more effort, but isn’t it worth it?

Effective partnerships

A multi-stakeholder, multi-pronged approach is critical to rooting out plastic waste. Corporates can play a role in facilitating behaviour change communication. They should be proactive in creating partnerships with municipalities and non-profits to achieve this. 

The Godrej group’s Good and Green sustainability programme serves as a beacon for others. The Group has been consistently and continuously working to reduce hazardous and solid waste generation, increase recycling of waste, and ensure waste generated at its sites is not sent to landfill. 

The Group has extended the programme to involve social enterprise to build awareness among local citizens. Its urban community waste management project running in 25 Mumbai-based educational institutes sensitises students and ropes them in efforts to recycle dry waste.  

Godrej has also partnered municipalities in Mumbai, Telangana and Guwahati to explore ways to recycle plastic to produce diesel oil or plastic that can be reused in packaging. It has also partnered research institutions to create bio-plastics or bio-degradable plastics. The Group is also exploring ways to reduce the use of packaging material. 

Like Godrej, other corporates have joined the coalition against plastic pollution. Coca Cola India works with collection agencies, NGOs, waste collectors, and customers to recover and recycle PET waste. It’s ‘Alag Karo – Har Din Teen Bin’ project in Gurugram is sensitising citizens on the right methods to segregate waste at source. 

Segregation at source is also the focus of PepsiCo India’s Waste to Wealth (WTW) programme operational in Tamil Nadu, Haryana and Telangana. The progamme has led to recycling of 80 percent of waste generated with only 20 percent reaching the landfill. The company also retails recycled products designed with plasto-fibre made from plastic bags and water pouches. 

Holistic approach required  

While the plastic ban by Maharashtra and other state governments is praise worthy and needed, it has also put at risk jobs of around three lakh people. This just goes to show that while having regulations makes sense, they have to be backed by specific steps and processes to achieve the goal. 

While legal provisions are important, awareness about the risks and hazards of plastic, behaviour change by consumers, segregation and recycling of waste, and effective partnerships between corporate and other stakeholders are needed to meet the challenge. 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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