Although in India we have started talking about the circular economy, I don’t think we really get it. I say this because when I hear our own well-meaning and at times scientifically knowledgeable packaging industry professionals using this expression, they are generally referring to it as an academic concept–something still far away and something that will come from somewhere or someone else at some future point in a limitless time.

My own view is that Japan is the most advanced in its understanding and practice of the CE concept. (although many European countries also get it and practice it.) In Japan, I
have seen it in action for more than a decade and not just in packaging but also in machine manufacturing and everyday life and commerce; in even how the hotels have been run
since the Fukushima disaster that greatly reduced the electricity available to all enterprises and after which the entire economy decided to further conserve resources. (This kind
of universal self-restraint used to be visible in Mumbai also more than a decade ago, when the power companies would request consumers to limit their consumption.)

The circular economy is not a concept in Japan; it is a ‘Basic Law for Establishing the Recycling-based Society’ enacted in 2000 that applies to the entire economy–to everything
that is input, manufactured and consumed and with every residue whether it is re-used or recycled up, down or laterally–and that which is ultimately not re-usable or recyclable
and has to be correctly destroyed or buried, and certainly to be accounted for. This applies to every raw material, to every product everything from pencils, to food and to steel, rubber, glass, automobiles and of course to packaging.

Japan did not suddenly come up with a comprehensive circular economy law–it took a quarter of a century to address the issues which it realized cannot be dealt with in a piecemeal fashion. The last fifteen years of the twentieth century saw major legislation, including the ‘Law for Promotion ofEffective Utilization of Recyclables,’ a broad-gauge recycling law enacted in 1991; the ‘Basic Environmental Law’ of 1993, a major pollution control law; the ‘Law for Promotion of Sorted Collection and Recycling of Containers and Packaging’ of 1995 (LColRec); the ‘Specified Home Appliance Recycling Law’ of 1998 (SHAR); the ‘Food Recycling Law’ of 2000; the ‘Construction Material Recycling Law’ of 2000; the ‘Green Purchasing Law’ of 2000; and the ‘End-of-Life Vehicle Law’ of 2002.

In the year 2000, the ‘Basic Law for Establishing the Recycling-based Society’ (BasicRecLaw) became the foundation of Japan’s circular economy initiative. This framework law amended the 1991 recycling law on the effective utilization of reyclables. The BasicRecLaw, together with the 1991 law, now known as the ‘Law for the Promotion of Effective Utilization of Resources’ (LPEUR), became central to the Japanese legislative circular economy structure.

The point is simply that we cannot have Swachh Bharat without a comprehensive law. We cannot have clean air in Delhi or any other place with this approach. We cannot have
regenerative and managed forests without this kind of thinking and we cannot have adequate water, let alone safe drinking water.

In spite of the best efforts of civil society in sorting waste, collection and recycling and the best efforts of brand owners and governments to reduce plastic and to recycle, it will not happen. These piecemeal efforts are not likely to succeed.

What is needed is a comprehensive approach. And a law. However, both of these seem to be antithetical to our way or thinking, being or doing.

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– Naresh Khanna (25 October 2023)

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Naresh Khanna
Editor of Indian Printer and Publisher since 1979 and Packaging South Asia since 2007. Trained as an offset printer and IBM 360 computer programmer. Active in the movement to implement Indian scripts for computer-aided typesetting. Worked as a consultant and trainer to the Indian print and newspaper industry. Visiting faculty of IDC at IIT Powai in the 1990s. Also founder of IPP Services, Training and Research and has worked as its principal industry researcher since 1999. Author of book: Miracle of Indian Democracy. Elected vice-president of the International Packaging Press Organization in May 2023.


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