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Bisleri’s roadmap for recycling used plastic

One of the major issues faced by manufacturers of bottled water is adding used plastic to the environment. Alongside its business model, bottled water company Bisleri is aware of its social and environmental responsibility and has launched two programs to preserve and protect the environment. Anjana Ghosh, Director – Marketing and Business Development, Bisleri International Pvt. Ltd spoke to Mohana M, Editor Clean India Journal about Bisleri’s campaigns to collect, clean, segregate and recycle used plastic, and also harvest rainwater to recharge groundwater supplies.

Bisleri’s journey towards environmental restitution

“As a brand, we are blamed for two things: plastic pollution and depleting water levels”, said Ghosh, “but we have been working to alleviate both, long before it was mandatory”. When Bisleri started its plants across India, it recognised that the issue of used plastic bottles being thrown away carelessly could turn into a larger problem in the future.

In 2003, Bisleri decided to start recovering and recycling plastic bottles. Ghosh said, “We bought our first recycling machines from Japan and placed them in our major plants at Bangalore, Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai. We tied up with ragpickers, who were already scavenging plastic and told them that if they brought the bottles to our plants, we would pay them for it.”

In 2018, the Pollution Control Board enforced a rule that plastic packaging material waste needs to be collected by the packaging company. By 2013-14, Bisleri had already structured its efforts by engaging with ragpickers, housing societies, corporates and now with municipal corporations.

Myth: Plastic is a waste

Plastic accounts for up to 80% of dry waste. Still, waste generators are rarely aware that it can be recycled; most home-owners believe used plastic thrown out by them ends up in a dump-yard forever when in fact, India has an ecosystem of 4.5 million ragpickers, 1.5 million kabadiwalas (plastic recycling agents) and 12,000 organised recyclers who harvest plastic waste and convert it into useful products.

India recycles 60% of the plastic it produces. The remaining 40% is not recycled because of a problem at the very beginning of the chain — waste collection. Plastic is usually not segregated out of waste at source; once it lands up in the landfill, it is very difficult to recover. Also, if dirty, plastic is rarely separated and recycled, even at waste segregation centers.

Bottles for Change

Bisleri launched Bottles for Change in 2017 to make citizens aware about the different ways of disposing plastic. This program also creates a channel for plastic recycling agents to collect used but clean plastic (hard as well as soft) through various stakeholders.

The process starts at the household level. A Bottles for Change volunteer motivates residents to keep used plastic separate, and to clean it (They also create awareness about what all can be made from plastic; for e.g. Multi Layered Plastic can be compacted into benches and partition walls). Ordinarily, this too would have been collected by the housekeeping staff, who would then sell heavy plastic like PET bottles and containers to the local kabadiwala. The staff too won’t want to handle dirty used plastic, which would then never be recycled.

Bisleri has set up an app for societies to request collection of cleaned used plastic, and to intimate them about the collection schedule. A vehicle is then arranged for collection.

Where is this used plastic sent? To a local kabadiwala, for recycling. “Our entire aim is to create awareness among people that plastic needs to be recycled, plastic shouldn’t be treated as waste and that the infrastructure for this already exists. In the future, we would like to link societies to kabadiwalas directly”, said Ghosh.

Used plastic processing

Bisleri has recently set up a recycling and processing centre for all kinds of plastic at Marol in Mumbai. It will be a collection, segregation and processing centre, and will also display information about consumer habit change, processes and various products made using recycled plastic.

For now, Bisleri has tied up with authorised recycling aggregators who collect the chipped plastic. “There is a value system in place, from ragpicker to kabadiwala to aggregator to recyclers. Only if the process is organised will everyone get better value”, said Ghosh.

Success in numbers

Since its inception, Bottles for Change has touched over 300,000 students, 500,000 individuals, 800 housing societies and over 500 corporates in five cities, and recycled 8,000 tonnes of segregated plastic across various manufacturing industries. NSS volunteers are a bulwark of the model; they coordinate waste collection in their housing societies and bring it to their colleges for centralised collection.

The Bottles for Change model has been receiving support from government bodies like the North Delhi Municipal Corporation, East Delhi Municipal Corporation, South Delhi Municipal Corporation, Panvel Municipal Corporation, Thane Municipal Corporation, Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation and Vasai-Virar Municipal Corporation.

Bisleri also made uniforms for the sales team from used PET bottles. These shirts were crafted from threads derived entirely from recycled bottles. Across India, 5,000 employees are presently wearing these shirts.

Project Nayi Umeed

This project focuses on conserving rainwater by building and restoring check dams. Check dams help store surface water for use both during and after the monsoon and also help in ground water recharge of the area.

Bisleri undertook the first check dam project in 2001 at Village Bara in Kutch, Gujarat. Since then, over 130 check dams have been built or restored across Gujarat and Western & Central parts of Maharashtra. These have helped harvest 16.5 billion litres of water across more than 124 villages, benefiting around 10,000 families. A total of 6,500 acres of land has been irrigated.

Ghosh said, “For every one litre of water it draws, Bisleri harvests 10 litres of rainwater through its Nayi Umeed Project. We have 136 bottling plants where it is a mandatory part of the plant layout to have a rainwater harvesting system. Roof water and surface water are all collected to charge bore well pits. All sales offices and the head office have roof water harvesting systems.”

While the demand for bottled water will always remain high, it is heartening to note that at least one industry player is conscientious of the impact of its operations on the environment, and has proactively initiated mechanisms to offset them in the long term.

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