It is a rare consumer who can decipher the nuances of what is touted as a ‘green product’. It is easy to make the mistake when checking product labels that read ‘recyclable,’ ‘compostable’ and ‘biodegradable’. They are often deceptive — often ‘biodegradable’ does not mean eco-friendly, ‘compostable’ does not mean that it can go into your home compost mechanism and ‘recyclable’ does not mean it will not land up at the end of life in a landfill.

Just to explain before we move further, a truly biodegradable product is one that can be returned to the earth it came from. It is mostly of a plant ingredient and needs no technical recycling or special provisions to process. For instance, several products labelled ‘biodegradable’ are made in the lab from petrochemical resources and need industrial composting to biodegrade, a facility hardly available in our country. The same goes for ‘compostable’ and ‘recyclable’.

It is this confusion in the consumer’s mind, lack of regulation and waste going into the wrong stream that is spurring the demand for a green products policy, somewhat similar to those in developed countries. A policy that must incentivise truly green products and demarcate the differences among home composting, industrial composting, recycling and landfill biodegradable.

‘Significant leap’

Green product manufacturers feel such a policy would be a significant leap forward as India has the potential to become one of the largest manufacturing and export hubs of eco-friendly products  since as we have the raw material, the technology and manpower. Through it, we could generate employment for the rural and tribal youth.

Rahul Singh and Arvind Ganesan, co-founders of EcoSoul Home, which makes cutlery, garbage bags, and tableware from palm leaf and bagasse, say the raw materials available also include bamboo, jute, bio resins, wheat straw and rice husk. EcoSoul recently launched its brand in the Indian market and has signed up over 50 manufacturing partners here.

Singh feels an ideal green products policy should have “tax and GST breaks along with capital and interest subsidies for companies that manufacture green products, making them more affordable for consumers”.  His wish list of course includes several other components including export and R&D incentives, a single window clearance, enforcement of the single use plastics ban, prohibition of green-washed and fake products and a procurement policy that prioritises the purchase of eco-friendly products for use by government bodies.

The seaweed idea

He emphasises that companies should be made to clearly label base materials from which products are manufactured and display certifications for eco-friendly products on their packaging and products.

“A plastic tax or incentivising a product that composts and leaves nothing behind is badly needed,” says Neha Jain of ZeroCircle, a Pune-based organisation experimenting with seaweed to make products. Though currently manufacturing packaging products through third party production, the company is busy setting up its own manufacturing facility.

The material it has made through R&D can be used for food packaging and as courier bags, shoe soles, medical and life science products like gloves, masks and medical sutures, bio-yarn based fabrics and vegan protein formulations. “The potential is enormous as seaweed is a natural and regenerative resource that does not need human action to reproduce as opposed to any other land-based plant.”

She says raw materials in her products would not divert any resources or require fossil fuels or land-based feedstock.  It does not emit methane when it degrades. “In fact, every time it grows, it cleans up the ocean and creates a better environment for marine life,” she says. Industry associations, too, moot for a green products policy. Goutam Surana, Founder of Eco365 Pvt Ltd, who represents the Association of Compostable Products in India, says, “We need a central body to label all green product with identification. Like the Ecolabel in the EU, we need easy identification labelling. Presently compostable plastic in India has IS 17088 certification and identity requirements for the manufacturers. All compostable products need to have IS 17088 printed.”

Identity labelling

Eco label or green label identifies products and services that have a reduced environmental impact throughout their life cycle. The ACPI says green labelled products and manufacturers should get financial benefits on taxation to make them cheaper for consumers and make green investment more attractive. Echoing others’ sentiments, it feels support for R&D and innovation through grants and fee waivers will be a step in the right direction.