How to deal with packaging waste

Venkatesh Ganesh Bengaluru | Updated on January 20, 2018 Published on April 28, 2016

Some argue that online shopping produces more than buying from brick-and-mortar stores REUTERS

Suggestions range from ‘take-back’ to self-regulation

As Indians start buying more things online, it is placing a lot of stress on disposal and management of packaging waste.

For Kartik Subramanium, a techie, buying online was a cool thing to do. “From clothes to groceries, I shopped online,” he says. While that was the happy part, since the last few months, he has started to rethink whether he should continue buying online.

No, it does not have to do anything with price. “Every item I bought came with excess packaging and sometimes even with materials that were not biodegradable,” he laments. He points to white thermocol blocks that came with a mobile power bank that he bought.

Others point to similar instances of shipments and argue that this kind of waste is not generated while buying from brick-and-mortar stores. While there is no comparative study on the amount of waste e-commerce companies generate, a back-of-the-envelope calculation point out that as these companies have in excess of ₹10,00,000 crore of gross merchandise value.

Then, there is the issue of returned goods. “When goods are returned, fresh packaging that goes into these items needs to be looked into,” said Sanchit Vir Gogia, Chief Analyst at Greyhound Research.

This kind of waste pileup is putting a lot of pressure on municipal corporations all over the country.

Sustainable packaging

Industry watchers have come forth with some suggestions. “E-commerce companies can buy back packaged materials after delivering a product or consider partnering with the street-corner junk dealers who could be authorised to collect the used cardboard packaging and sell it back to the company,” said K Yatish Rajawat, Head (Strategy, Investment Alliances and Partnerships), LocalCircles, a social entrepreneurial start-up.

Ideas like these are partly inspired by similar policies adopted by big corporates. For example, companies such as HP, a decade back, came out with take-back policies for used cartridges, or in the case of Nokia, used phones and batteries.

Some suggest that a customer can be given a choice to accept or reject packaging. Others like Sudev Alampalli, VP, India, Snuvik Technologies, say use of environment-friendly packaging should be mandated. Top e-commerce companies did not respond to a detailed email regarding these issues.

Others point to the need for the government to step in with more enforcement. “”If plastic bags are being restricted, why not see if it works in e-commerce packaging,” says Raghuraj Sunder Raju, founder of HealthPlix, a health tech start-up. Rajawat added that if these companies do not self regulate, eventually State governments will have to get into the ring.

Published on April 28, 2016
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