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Hard to recycle packaging, a major area of concern

LN Revathy Coimbatore | Updated on September 20, 2019

File Photo   -  The Hindu

How often have you enjoyed a fruit juice from a disposable, multilayered carton and dumped it by wayside? Have you ever paused to think how the litter affects the environment?

The Energy & Resources Institute (TERI) has estimated the total consumption of such cartons at about 900 crore a year, of which only 270 crore (30 per cent) get recycled, leaving the remaining 630 crore packets (equal to 94,500 tonnes @15 g/pack) as garbage, polluting landfills and water bodies every year.

While these packs look like thick paper cartons, they are made by gluing together thin layers of polythene plastic (20 per cent), paper (75 per cent) and aluminium (5 per cent), which makes it extremely difficult to separate and recycle.

“The Indian citizen, corporates and other stakeholders are unaware about the drastic environment such a pack leaves behind. Most of us think they are made from paper, but the reality is far from it. It is multi-material packaging, which makes it extremely hard to recycle. It is not reusable. The litter is never collected; it leaches toxins in water bodies and the soil. The government should immediately ban this material,” according to Vinod Shukla, President, Pandit Deendayal Upadhyay Smriti Manch.

Studies show that around 15,000 multilayered packs are purchased and dumped every minute in India.

According to the data collected by the largest such packaging manufacturer in the world (Tetra Pak), there are only four recycling units in India – ITC Papers, Deluxe Recycling, Eastern Cargo and Khatema Fibers.

There are around 33 collection centres for collecting the huge number of packs/cartons used every day.

Also, Tetra Pak organisation admits to running the ‘Go Green’ initiative since 2010 but the collection is less than 0.01 per cent of the total cartons manufactured every year

Sanjay K Chattopadhyay, Former Additional Director and Head - Research and Development, Indian Institute of Packaging, Mumbai said the multilayered packaging is a non-recyclable laminate. While the paperboard is biodegradable, the printing ink leaches into the environment.

At present, the options available to deal with non-easily recyclable material are mixing them with bitumen for road construction, conversion to fuel and incineration. Being a semi rigid packaging material it can be converted into a composite structure. Instead of recycling, the option of a well-structured end-to-end solution incorporating recovery may be thought of,” suggests Chattopadhyay.

Published on September 20, 2019

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