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Friday, Jun 14, 2002

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An initiative to recycle PET bottles

S. Gopikrishna Warrier

Stung by the campaign against plastics, Coca-Cola has started an awareness campaign on recycling polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles.

CHENNAI, June 13

IF you are living in South Chennai, do not throw away the polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles in which you buy soft drinks or water. An entire collection chain is being put in place by the end of this month that will take your bottles up to the PET recycling plant at Manali run by Indian Organic Chemicals Ltd (IOCL).

A business initiative called Plastic Recycling Solutions (PRS) has been started to convert the whole collection chain into a business venture. And, to increase the awareness on the recycling of PET bottles, a campaign has been launched.

According to Mr M. Krishna Sai, Proprietor, PRS, the initiative has the support of all the major bottled water and soft drinks manufacturers operating in Chennai. "For us, this seems like a very good business opportunity, and also fulfilling a social responsibility".

A study commissioned by PRS showed that around 900 tonnes of PET bottles were junked during 2001, he said. Of this, only around 350 tonnes made it for recycling at the IOCL facility. The remaining 450 tonnes disappeared into waste bins and landfills.

"We felt that we can set up a logistics network to collect this quantity also and reach it to IOCL's recycling facility", Mr Sai said.

The initial operation for collection, which is to be launched by the end of June, will concentrate in Zone 10 of the Chennai Corporation, which consists of Besant Nagar, Adyar, Thiruvanmiyur, R.A. Puram, Velachery, parts of the East Coast Road and Perungudi. If the project shows success here, then PRS would consider servicing other parts of the city.

Around 35 scrap dealers have been identified to serve as collection centres, he said. A stainless steel compactor has been designed which can crush and flatten the bottles, and thereby reducing its volume. These compactors will be supplied to the scrap dealers identified.

According to him, the PRS study had found that one of the reasons that the scrap dealers were reluctant to take PET bottles was the high volume it occupied. The other factor that sent PET to the landfills was the lack of awareness among people that PET can be recycled.

So generating awareness about recyclability of PET is part of the campaign, he said. Already many of the soft drinks supply trucks have boards on this theme.

These will be supplemented by in-shop promotions at major chain stores. There are also plans to put large metal cages at prominent locations such as the beach, which will serve as intermediate collection points and also raise people's awareness about PET.

The economics of the collection chain has been worked out, Mr Sai said. The household can sell bottles at Rs 4 per kg (or 10 to 20 paise per bottle). PRS would pick it from the scrap dealer at Rs 5 per kg and sell it to IOCL at Rs 8 to Rs 9 per kg.

IOCL has joined the initiative because it would have the opportunity of sourcing raw material from the city itself, according to a company official. With the collection process being streamlined, the company also hopes that the quality of the scrap would be better. Currently, the bottles that come from within Chennai are those picked up by rag pickers from the landfills. Despite the PET recycling plant being located on the outskirts of Chennai, the raw material contribution from the city is rather low.

IOCL officials say that though the company has an installed capacity of handling 2,500 tonnes per month, on an average it handles 1,250 tpm. Of this, 50 per cent of PET scrap is imported and only the rest is from the country.

Even out of this the contribution from Chennai is only around 65 tpm in the best months.

Though IOCL pays up to Rs 14 per kg for imported scrap, officials say that the quality of this is better and less than five per cent of the material needs to be thrown away.

In the Indian material, the wastage can be anywhere between seven and 20 per cent.

The company could even consider giving a higher price for waste collected from the city if it is of good quality.

The company's facility at Manali makes polyester fibre out of the PET wastes.

This can then be used for making synthetic carpets, upholstery, flooring and roofing.

To sort and supply good waste to the plant PRS is setting up a 10,000 sq. ft sorting and baling centre close to the IOCL facility, Mr Sai added.

According to Mr T.V.S. Krishnan, General Manager (Environmental Resource Management), Coca Cola India Ltd, a similar effort has been initiated in Goa, where all the stakeholders have been involved.

The idea is to make the collection chain economically viable so that there is an interest in recycling at every stage.

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