In developing, low income, and densely populated India, segregation and proper disposal of waste is a big challenge. The waste, especially packaging waste, either ends up in landfills or as litter. To address the problem of waste, Monisha Narke, founder and chief executive officer of Are You Reducing, Reusing, Recycling Greenlife (RUR Greenlife), a Mumbai-based social enterprise, tied up with some leading corporates to handle the waste. RUR Greenlife has tied up with Tetra Pak India, Sahakari Bhandar and Reliance Smart & Fresh stores to run the initiative ‘Go Green with Tetra Pak.’ This initiative reached its ten-year milestone on this year’s World Environment Day.
“We are excited about our flagship program ‘Go Green with Tetra Pak’ completing its 10th anniversary on this year’s World Environment Day. The ten-year partnership with Tetra Pak India has been wonderful and gratifying,” says Narke. “To achieve a sustainable solution to make a positive impact on our planet calls for collaborative effort where every stakeholder in the value chain contributes. We are fortunate to have found the perfect partner in Tetra Pak India.”
‘Go Green with Tetra Pak’ program is an initiative that connects consumers to the recycler, making it easy for every individual to bring back their empty Tetra Pak cartons cut, cleaned and flattened for safe and effective recycling. The aim is to encourage citizens to exercise their responsibility as consumers to deposit used paper-based Tetra Pak cartons for recycling at various collection centers across Mumbai, including those at Sahakari Bhandar, Reliance Fresh and Reliance Smart stores.
Sahakari Bhandar, Reliance Fresh and Reliance Smart stores provide a platform where RUR Greenlife has 44 public collection bins for recycling across Mumbai and promotes and sensitizes shoppers about the importance of recycling.
The program works on a hub and spoke model where the hubs are public collection centers to deposit used cartons. The spokes are private bulk generators, like schools, residential societies, institutions, and corporates around the hubs. Since Reliance Fresh and Sahakari Bhandar Stores are well-spread in the city and popular with lakhs of Mumbaikars, they were ideal hubs for depositing cartons. Beyond waste collection, the stores actively collaborated with RUR Greenlife in raising awareness through eco-bazaars, eco-dramas, and school melas.
The success of the program is reflected in the collection of 45 lakh Tetra Pak cartons since 2010. In 2019 alone, under the ‘Go Green with Tetra Pak’ program, 11 lakh cartons were collected for recycling. The program is mainly centered in Mumbai and Pune.
“The important thing to understand about the program is that this is not a short-term incentive-based program. This is a program for creating a shift in consumer behavior so that they adopt waste segregation and recycling at source as a habit for life,” says Narke.
An essential aspect of the program is to give back to the community. Under its ‘Carton le Aao, Classroom Banao’ and ‘Bin Se Bench Tak’ initiatives, Go Green with Tetra Pak has donated 300 school desks and 170 garden benches. These desks and benches are made of the recycled Tetra Pak cartons. For 10,500 cartons collected, a garden bench or school desk can be donated. .
The cartons are recycled into boards after being shred into pulp and then compressed using heat and cooled. The recycled boards, stronger than plastic and comparable to wood, are sent to RUR’s factory in Umargaon, Gujarat for making the desks and benches.
“The program has been received very well by donors like corporates, churches, schools, and the beneficiaries of the benches and school desks. They continue to motivate lakhs of Mumbaikars to join in the dual cause of helping the environment while providing education infrastructure to children,” adds Narke. Consumers appreciate the recycled products and understand the importance of collecting and depositing their empty Tetra Pak cartons.
RUR Greenlife’s other initiatives include bio-composting kitchen waste and end to end waste management solutions for societies, schools, and corporates. The organization conducts eco-awareness workshops and corporate environment education programs for green practices. RUR Greenlife has successfully diverted 650 tonnes of solid waste from landfills annually in the past decade.
Working during the pandemic
Like many others, the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has compelled RUR Greenlife to shift its awareness activities on-line with webinars, virtual training sessions, and publishing blogs. Video platforms like YouTube and LinkedIn continue to help spread the word.
“We have always been committed to our core philosophy of reduce, reuse, and recycle. Our online awareness program has had very enthusiastic participation. All our hubs and spokes have been supportive in the lockdown period and have collected and stored their cartons well,” Narke says. “The pandemic has been a reset for all of us and gives us all a chance to rethink how we impact the environment and the role we need to play to make a positive impact on the planet.”