Maharashtra govt’s move to ban use of plastic puts RIL in recycle mode

Company creating platform for building corpus and setting up full-fledged sustainability team

The Maharashtra government’s decision in March to partially ban the use of plastic has put the country’s largest polymer producer in recycle mode. The Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Industries (RIL) is now creating a platform for recycling, building a corpus and setting up a full-fledged sustainability team.

“The ban from Maharashtra was more of a wake-up call for the industry,” said Vipul Shah, chief operating officer of RIL’s petrochemicals business. RIL had homework in place over the last couple of years. The ban accelerated the process, he added.

“There was earlier a small team of two to three people working on a smaller project like bottle recycling. We now have a full-fledged department for sustainability of seven to eight people working full time and another 10-12 moonlighting,” Shah added.

RIL is the country’s largest producer of polymer, the main raw material required for making plastic items. Shah did not share details on how much of the company’s polymer production is consumed through plastic bags and other items banned in the state.

“The exposure to banned items is minimal, less than three per cent maybe. It is more likely to affect small enterprises. As for RIL, there are other segments to cater to,” said a person with direct knowledge of the business.

Part of the sustainability team’s job is to develop an extended producer responsibility (EPR) platform for the industry. “Being the largest polymer producer, we want to design something that is adaptable to India and not a copy from Europe. We want to design the whole chain from segregation, collection, secondary segregation, recycling, generating energy and oil,” Shah added.

The corpus, he said, would be funded through RIL’s petrochemicals business, not as part of its corporate social responsibility programme.

It makes for a curious case as to why RIL, with presence from oil to telecom, is not planning to enter bio-degradable bag manufacturing. “We have not considered making bio-degradable bags but continue to do research at the other end of it, in terms of whether we can make bio-degradable compounds for polymer,” Shah said. Himachal Pradesh was the first state to ban plastic bags in 2003. Delhi, Sikkim, Rajasthan and Goa are others that have followed suit.

According to RIL’s latest annual report, the company has a share of 38% of India’s polymer market. With the ongoing global movement to reduce dependence on plastic, Indian states are expected to catch up sooner or later.

Maharashtra is the latest addition to the list of states like Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim and New Delhi where a ban has been implemented in some form.

RIL will submit the EPR draft to the government soon. The company is expected to work with start-ups to build on the proposed platform.

“We are not talking about each start-up being able to have pan-India presence; we expect an intellectual property that could be sold through a franchise model. To make it sustainable, we need to make sure that they, as entrepreneurs, also have a skin in the game. When one producer buys a recycled product, we also want to make sure not everyone is buying the same 10 per cent, and that is where the block-chain technology steps in,” he said.

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