Waste Management Diaries – 2 (Plastic bags/ wrapping)

When we talk of plastic, what comes to mind? Quite likely a plastic bag. 

Plastic carry bags are banned in Mumbai. Even then, plastic bags and other plastic wrapping continue to play a major role in our lives.

  • Food stuff – bread, biscuits, chips, toffees, cereal, rice, dhals, sauce packets, packaged vegetables, dosa batter, milk packets …
  • Household supplies – toothbrushes, detergent powders, shampoo sachets …
  • Bubble wrap, medicine blister packs, gift wrapping, clothes packaging …

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These and much more, all contribute to the plastic bag/ wrapper waste we are generating on a daily basis.     

Can plastic bags/ wrappers be recycled?

Clean milk/curd/oil packets and clean single-layer standard 50-micron plastic packets are easily recyclable and can be sold to the local recycler. These plastics fetch Rs 10-20/kg.

So what happens to the rest of the plastic bag/ wrapper waste? As they have ‘no value’, most of this ends up in landfills where they will lie for a thousand years. Or they will get into the sea and be served in the fish we eat!

What does our society do with plastic bag/ wrapper waste?

Our society generates enough plastic bag/ wrapper waste to fill a Tata Ace truck in one month. That’s a huge quantity. Every day, we sort the plastic waste and then store the non-sellable items till the time they can be sent for responsible disposal.

In the past: Once in two months, the waste was being transported to Urja Foundation, a Thane-based NGO, along with plastic waste collected by nearby societies/individuals. Those contributing plastic waste would also contribute for its transportation. Urja Foundation would then add our plastic waste to whatever they collected in Thane, and send this to Rudra Environmental Solutions in Pune. Rudra is a social entrepreneurship organisation that extracts poly fuel, gas and road plastic filler from plastic waste. While it was satisfying to see that the waste was reaching a reliable recycling centre, we were concerned about the distance it was travelling and the associated costs. So we’d been looking for other solutions.

Now: Under the Extended Producers Responsibility (EPR) model, companies that produce multi-layered/ hard-to-recycle/ non-recyclable plastic bag/ wrapper waste (such as Dabur, Unilever, Patanjali, P&G, etc.) are supposed to put in a mechanism to ensure that their products’ plastic packaging, once discarded by customers, are collected for recycling/ processing.

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Through our waste management networking, we have touched base with a plastic recycler appointed under the EPR model, Shakti Plastic Industries, with factory at Palghar. Along with this, we have found a low-carbon footprint method of transporting the waste. When the factory truck comes to Mumbai for deliveries, it usually returns empty. It therefore has capacity to pick up our waste on the way back. We have had one truck-load of plastic bag/ wrapper waste collected from our society by them.

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What can we do to with respect to plastic bags/ wrappers, so that we reduce our negative impact on the environment?

  • Ensure recyclability – by cleaning and drying our milk packets, shampoo sachets, etc.
  • Reduce the plastic bags/ wrappers that reach our homes
    • carry our own bags to put our shopping
    • carry our own containers (e.g. if we are visiting Hot Chips, carry our own container to put our chips instead of getting the chips packed in a plastic bag)
    • do not use garbage bags of any kind to line our garbage bins
    • do not accept plastic carry bags from our puja flower vendor, tender coconut delivery man, grocery supplier, etc.
    • do not use shiny gift wrapping, and discourage others from giving us gifts wrapped in shiny gift wrapping
    • avoid “I am not a plastic bag”/ compostable/ bio-degradable plastic bags – they are only industrially compostable and do not compost / bio-degrade in the normal course, they contaminate other plastic waste and they are expensive
    • do anything else that will help reduce plastic waste.

“We humans have become dependent on plastic for a range of uses, from packaging to products. Reducing our use of plastic bags is an easy place to start getting our addiction under control.” – David Suzuki (science broadcaster, environmental activist)

This is the second post about waste management at Whispering Palms Xxclusives CHS, Kandivali East, Mumbai.

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