Having identified plastics pollution as an engagement priority for 2018, the Stewart Investors Sustainable Funds Group, in partnership with the Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology Sydney, hosted a full day interactive forum on 25 July in Mumbai with some of the largest local and multi-national consumer goods companies in India.

The main objectives of the Forum was to bring business leaders together to share knowledge about the challenges they face in relation to plastic packaging waste and to brainstorm ideas for how they can work together to improve the situation. The Forum was attended by 23 participants representing 11 companies, as well as representatives from World Resources Institute (WRI) India and XYNTEO, who were invited both as guest speakers and as participants.

The group acknowledged the importance and usefulness of plastic but agreed there was a need to find better ways to manage its use and disposal. Through various group sessions participants shared some of their organizational successes, challenges and priorities for plastic packaging; on a personal level what a plastic pollution free India might look like to them; and then explored the practicalities for achieving their preferred futures.

Having identified their ‘preferred futures’ participants then engaged in a structured process to identify and prioritize collaborative actions in addressing the issue of plastic pollution. A long list of ideas was generated, then summarized down to a short list that was prioritized by Forum participants and grouped under the broad headings of:

1. Forming a national industry body focused on plastics

Having identified plastics pollution as an engagement priority for 2018, the Stewart Investors Sustainable Funds Group, in partnership with the Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology Sydney, hosted an interactive forum on 25 July in Mumbai with some of the largest local and multi-national consumer goods companies in India.

2. Shared visions and targets

While participants agreed that many of the building blocks for a successful plastics waste management strategy were already in place, a national, industry-lead strategy, with associated targets, would help to drive change. Perhaps along the lines of the UK’s Plastic Pact, this shared vision could be coordinated by the new peak body, but work could start earlier.

3. Knowledge sharing and peer learning

Participants acknowledged the importance of peer-to-peer learning. One specific opportunity identified for knowledge sharing was the development of a list of credible, responsible waste management organizations. Many of the companies represented at the Forum want to ensure that their partners have appropriate policies and procedures in place to ensure their activities are socially responsible and environmentally sustainable.

4. Consumer awareness and behavior change

There was general agreement amongst participants that consumers need to be engaged to raise their awareness of recycling and the need for responsible disposal. Multiple participants therefore proposed a national communications campaign to achieve a few objectives. A separate but related opportunity is to run an education campaign through schools on the importance of recycling and proper disposal.

5. Innovation and technology for waste management:

While many types of plastic packaging are already recycled, others have limited value and are generally not collected. Several initiatives were proposed to support investment in new or improved processes to facilitate recycling of these lower value materials. One was to run a competition for innovations in plastic waste management, as this would help the industry to understand the current landscape. Another idea was to seed an incubation fund that would invest in R&D for alternative materials.

6. Building the collection system

One of the frustrations expressed by participants was that despite numerous trials and pilot schemes to improve recycling, there is no mechanism to scale these. Participants proposed a number of initiatives including:

  • develop a new for-profit company or public private partnership (PPP) to aggregate collected plastic packaging
  • companies work with existing third-party collectors and recyclers to build scale 
  • provide funds for equipment that would improve efficiency, for example bottle crushers, sachet compactors and pelletizers to feed waste to energy (WTE) markets
  • recognize and reward the informal sector to bring inclusivity and create a ‘feel good’ factor.

Attendees participated enthusiastically and were generous in sharing their knowledge and experience with peers. They demonstrated a high level of goodwill, genuine concern for the future and a strong desire to collaborate to address the issue. Participants were also very clear in their view that industry must take the lead on this issue to drive change in collaboration with governments and NGOs.

The challenge is to ensure that the goodwill and commitment demonstrated at the Forum is converted into action. Setting up the peak industry body that is focused purely on plastic packaging waste is the key next step as this body will be tasked with exploring and progressing the actions further. This work is currently in progress.

Stewart Investors hope that this will be just the first step in a new collaborative effort to reduce plastic pollution in India. For further details, please see the Forum briefing paper and output paper.

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