by Elton Gomes
When India hosted the World Environment Day on June 5, 2018, it focused on the theme of beating plastic pollution. Furthering the cause of reducing plastic pollution in the country, environmental groups led by the Solid Waste Management Round Table (SWMRT), Bengaluru, came together and performed a waste and brand audit in eight locations across Bengaluru. The audit was part of a larger activity coordinated by GAIA India in which ten member organisations and partners conducted waste and brand audits across 18 states in India.
In Bengaluru, the audit was conducted from May 20 to 22, and saw participation from 120 volunteers through partnerships like HasiruDala, Bangalore Eco Team, HSR Citizens Forum, Beautiful Bengaluru, Lets Clean Bengaluru, Kasa Muktha Bellandur, Yelahanka Eco Group, Lal Bagh West Group, and Swachha.
Findings from the audit reveal that out of 12,000 pieces of waste audited, up to 61 percent were found to containing multi-layered laminate packaging – which is non-recyclable. In addition, the audit revealed that both local and international brands are to be blamed for the increasing stream of plastic packaging branded litter.
Sandya Narayanan, a member of SWMRT, told Citizen Matters: “The FMCG companies spend millions of rupees in creating deep penetration of their marketing networks and increasing their product sales. This has ended up releasing millions of packaging units into the environment, for someone else to clean up.” The audit named brands such as Coca Cola, Hindustan UniLever, and ITC.
As India struggles to do away with its plastic menace, the government needs to reconsider norms for food packaging to avoid mounting heaps of plastic.
India seeks to set new norms
In 2017, the Economic Times reported that India’s food regulator would soon set new norms for pouches, foil containers, bottles, and boxes that are used in food and beverage packaging. These new norms would seek to address concerns over contamination due to sub-standard material and the printing on them.
Furthermore, the new standards were intended to make food companies more accountable for hygiene. India’s food regulator had planned to have its own benchmark in order to ensure that all packaging used in food and beverages is safe, and that it can be monitored.
Pawan Kumar Agarwal, chief executive of the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India, said, “There will be separate regulations for packaging, for which draft regulations will be out soon,” as reported by the Economic Times.
There can be many approaches to regulate food packaging. In addition to hygiene, sustainability of packaging could be another angle in which regulatory intervention might help solve the complex problem of garbage. India could perhaps emulate innovation in packaging designs to ensure that no harm is done to the environment.
Sustainable packaging innovations
Over the years, several innovations have been explored in the area of packaging, keeping waste management in mind.
In 2015, processing and packaging solutions company, Tetra Pak, released the world’s first carton that was made solely from plant-based and renewable packaging materials . The eco-friendly carton was developed in consultation with sustainable plastics experts Braskem.
Another initiative by Tomorrow Machine uses bio-degradable materials for food packaging. Materials such as caramelized sugar, agar jelly, and beeswax are used.
Canadian organization Pangea Organics has developed the world’s first 100 percent compostable, biodegradable, and plantable packaging for its Ecocentric body/skin-care range. The packaging is manufactured with zero waste and developed from 100 percent post-consumer paper board. Most importantly, after the product has been used, the user soaks the box for a minute in water and plants it in soil.
Such eco-friendly alternatives will certainly remedy India’s mounting plastic troubles. In states like Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu where the battle against plastic packaging has begun, research and development in such packaging solutions should be encouraged. With a clear strategy and efficient packaging norms, India might soon be on the eco-friendly route.
Elton Gomes is a staff writer for Qrius.
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