Due to weak enforcement and the continuing popularity of plastic packaging among retailers and consumers in the absence of any suitable alternative, the country has not been able to achieve substantial success in reducing the usage of plastics.
India’s plastic consumption has grown significantly over the last decade. As per industry estimates India consumes c. 16 million tonnes of plastic on an annual basis, contributing to generation of c. 9.47 million tonnes of plastic waste annually. Only 60% of the total waste generated is processed while the remaining is unsegregated, littered and ends up in landfills or the natural environment.1
Around 43% of manufactured plastic is used for packaging purposes, majority of which is Single Use plastic i.e. used only once and disposed. While plastic packaging plays a key role of protection, marketing and advertising, the complete lifecycle of this is not thought through, resulting is substantial waste generation.
India’s textile and apparel (T&A) industry is one of the world’s largest, and is a major contributor to global textile and apparel production and consumption. The industry is estimated to be worth USD 190 billion by 2025-26.2 It currently employs more than 45 million people making it the second largest employer in India – contributing over 15% of the country’s export earnings, and almost 7% of the it’s industry output. Although the industry exhibits a positive trend in terms of growth on the back of an exponential rise in fashion retail and online shopping, it is a significant contributor to the Single Use plastic packaging waste generation.
Current Policy Landscape around Single Use Plastic in India
The Government of India has announced a number of steps to phase out and eventually completely stop Single Use plastics usage to reduce the country’s plastic footprint. The 2016 Plastic Waste Management Rules put curbs on use and generation of plastic packaging waste. This includes prohibition of carry bags made of virgin plastic less than 50 microns in thickness in order to facilitate ease of collection and recycling of plastic waste. Under the new rules the government now plans to ban bags less than 120 microns by next year.3
Additionally regulations for Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)4 have also been introduced, according to which the producers (manufacturers, importers and those using plastic in packaging) as well as brand owners would be held responsible for collecting the plastic waste they generate and ensure a minimum percentage of the produce is recycled or used in supply.5 The proposed EPR framework has provisions to impose penalties if producers fail to meet their targeted collection.
Due to weak enforcement and the continuing popularity of plastic packaging among retailers and consumers in the absence of any suitable alternative, the country has not been able to achieve substantial success in reducing the usage of plastics. However, a clear shift from regulatory intent to action is now visible. The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has sent notices to 52 companies for not registering and specifying their single use plastic disposal plans under the EPR framework.
It is therefore, imperative for the T&A industry to adopt a strategy aligned with the principles of the circular economy to address challenges posed by single-use plastics waste
The concept of a single-use plastics free circular economy, which can harness the benefits of plastics while addressing its drawbacks, and deliver significantly better system-level economic and environmental outcomes, is gaining traction in India and the rest of South Asia. Transition to such a circular system therefore, involves keeping useful plastics in the economy but out of the environment. This will entail simultaneous progress on multiple fronts including a re-evaluation of the plastics lifecycle, new commercially viable circular business models, development of alternative materials, new technologies, better land-based and marine plastic waste management solutions, awareness generation and enabling policy interventions.
In order to do so, India must adopt an integrated approach to collecting, segregating and recycling plastic waste that would ensure adequate recovery and collection mechanisms enabling producers and manufacturers to recycle plastic waste through a plug and play model.
There is an emergence of Integrated closed loop solution providers which have a holistic goal of reducing the generation of single use plastic in the ecosystem by collecting the waste packaging material from business/ end consumers, recycling it and converting it back into usable products. Such solutions fundamentally address the habit of waste disposal rather than just replacing the material through programs or mechanisms to collect all the recycled plastic products from various distribution points in the chain.
In an initiative to demonstrate a business case of how the entire plastic waste generated by a fashion brand can be collected, recycled and prevented from going to the environment, the Circular Apparel Innovation Factory (CAIF), an initiative by Intellecap, facilitated a pilot project in October 2020 between House of Anita Dongre, a brand at the forefront of sustainability in India and Lucro Plastecycle Pvt Ltd, a Mumbai based enterprise which collects and develops packaging from recycled post-consumer plastic waste.
House of Anita Dongre currently has 1200 retail touch points across the country. The pilot when scaled will recycle c. 6 Million polybags on an annual basis and manage the entire plastic waste generated by House of Anita Dongre at a pan India level. CAIF will disseminate the learnings and insights on best practices from this initiative to the industry. As per Rohan Batra, (Head Sustainability & CSR, House of Anita Dongre) the partnership with Lucro and CAIF has been huge step in making the brand reduce its plastic footprint and bring in efforts to reduce the carbon footprint due to plastic waste generated so far. Rohan points out that the pilot has already been successful in introducing 6.5 lac polybags with 60-75% post-consumer recycled content in the supply chain. Since its inception the pilot has resulted in a monthly average of 500 kgs of plastic waste and 1.25 lac polybags being recycled at House of Anita Dongre resulting in a conservative 30% savings in carbon footprint.
Lucro also provides a blockchain enabled traceability tool called Satma CE, which validates the origin & supply chain process of the post-consumer waste used. Ujwal Desai, MD, Lucro Plastecycle Pvt Ltd mentions that Lucros trademarked Plast-E-Cycle process creates a circular economy for plastic, making the recycling and remanufacture of plastics more efficient and high quality. It definitely helps that Lucro is involved in every step of waste management, from collection and segregation, processing into granules, product design and manufacturing of high-quality, innovative and eco-friendly products.
The partnership between House of Anita Dongre, Lucro and CAIF demonstrates that integrated closed loop solutions are poised to create a cascading effect in India’s T&A industry. It is evident that with the right support, innovative solution providers are ready and willing to drive significant environmental and social impact both in the country as well as demonstrate circular models that can be scaled globally.