Plastics have been under the limelight lately for being banned in certain states of India. Every product has a shelf life but this cannot be said for plastics. In fact, our planet cannot digest plastics. It takes 500 to 1000 years for planet Earth to completely degrade plastics due to the presence of complex polymers. As a result, remains of plastics manufactured till date can still be found in some form or the other on Earth. Annually, India generates around 56 lakh tons of plastic waste; Delhi alone accounts for 9600 metric tons of plastic waste per day.
Currently in India, there is only one law in place – no manufacturer or vendor can use a plastic bag which is below 50 microns. This is because the thinner the bags are, greater is the threat posed to the environment due to its non-disposability. According to a study by the World Economic Forum, the oceans will have more number of plastics in comparison to fishes by the end of 2050 if we continue to consume plastics at the same rate. These facts and figures clearly signify that the use of plastics needs urgent attention.
Need for a strong solid waste management program
The recent plastic ban is essentially a knee-jerk reaction, a result of decades of inaction by the industry as well as the ruling governments. “In the long term if you see, till date, the most sustainable material remains plastic. Some people say that plastics will remain for hundreds of years; glass has a life of 50 years; cloth has a life of only 10 years. So my question to them is – what’s your plan? You can’t just leave glass like that for 50 years. It is for us to decide if we want to simply accumulate the trash or utilize it. Eventually, there has to be a strong solid waste management program, the modalities have to be worked out. There are a few programs such as Germany’s Green Dot, which has been followed by a lot of countries including major countries in Scandinavia,” says Vikram Bhadauria, director of ALOK Masterbatches.
“The Indian government is also coming up with a plan wherein it’ll lay incumbent regulations on the industries to reclaim the waste and utilize it in one or the other way. So, once the noise dies and sane heads address it, we can decide what’s to be done,” he adds.
Ban on single-use plastics
The Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi recently announced during the World Environment Day summit that the government has pledged to ban all single-use plastics by 2022; the move has been welcomed by both the United Nations and grassroots groups. The UN environment agency called the policy ‘unprecedented’.
Bhadauria is in complete support of this decision taken by the government; he says, “In the single-use sense, we have to change our consumption behavior. You see, our country is 1.25 billion, the consumption class is around 350 million; the remaining 800 to 850 million have not even started consuming resources at the level that urban population in India is consuming. What happens when they start consuming the resources at the same level as we do in the urban and semi-urban areas? The question is, do we have the resources to support that? Then, we will start consuming a lot and start throwing a lot; not everything can be burnt into energy and recycled. Our behavior has to change. We need to learn to use less, reuse and recycle.”
ALOK’s solutions for recyclability and biodegradability of plastics
ALOK has been working over the past few months in developing recyclable products that are now almost at the cusp of commercialization. There are two specific technologies that ALOK is working at—partnership with an American company called Willow Ridge Plastics on biodegradable technologies, and multi-layer film recycling.
“Paradoxically, what’s happening is, we have been banning the plastic bags which are recyclable. What is not recyclable is the multi-layer layer films and there is no ban on it. So, the government and the industry have realized that this is a black-hole and both are addressing it. There are buy-back programs that are targeted towards this. We are coming up with a product through which we can recycle multi-layer films,” Bhadauria shares.
The company is currently filing a patent for the aforementioned multi-layer film recycling product and hence has abstained from giving out further details. It is basically a ready-to-use drop in product that any recycler can use. The multi-layer films and pouches can be added to the product that will be soon launched by the company; they can extrude it and the resultant will be an upcycled product.