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New Delhi: Packaged food company Mondelez India has awarded a grant to Bengaluru-based NGO Hasiru Dala that will pilot a project to recycle multi-layered plastic (MLP) waste to build alternatives to plywood that can have both commercial as well as consumer usages.

The pilot, set to commence next month, will initially convert 600 tonnes of MLP waste per annum into WoW boards—that can be used to make furniture and even be applied for construction and building purposes.

The project was facilitated by Ubuntoo—a global environment solutions company set-up by former Cola-Cola India president Venkatesh Kinni.

As part of this initiative, MLP waste will be collected by Hasiru Dala’s network of waste collection units and then processed and converted into recyclable material at a special unit set up in Bengaluru, Mondelez said.

The technology solution is provided by waste recycling equipment manufacturer TrashCon.

“We have made a grant to Hasiru Dala that will convert waste to wealth, generate employment and create a viable business model while addressing the challenges of MLP in a sustainable manner. The success of this project and its learnings will create a model for companies in India to replicate for MLP recycling at scale," Deepak Iyer, President, India, Mondelēz International, said.

The 600 tonnes of waste represent 10% of plastic generated by the sale of the company’s products in India.

Globally, the maker of Cadbury chocolates and Oreo cookies has committed to reducing its environmental impact—over 97% of Mondelez India’s packaging is currently designed to be recyclable. In 2019- 2020 and in 2020-21, the company achieved 100% Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) targets in India, it said in a statement.

MLP packaging is used heavily by the foods industry for packaging chips, biscuits, chocolates, shampoo sachets, and candies etc. MLP packaging has least one layer of plastic along with additional layers in materials such as paper, paper board, metalized layers or aluminium foil.

However, the material is significantly hard to fully recycle. The waste often ends up in drains and on street sides its collection remains largely unorganised.

According to a 2018 report, more than 80% of plastic waste collected is of low value but brings almost nothing in terms of income to the centres. They typically end up at landfills or in co-processing in cement kilns, said Nalini Shekar, co-founder, Hasiru Dala.

The conversion of plastic waste into WoW boards will help bring income to the waste pickers and will have applications particularly in replacing wood-based sheets, said Shekar.

Companies, especially those that sell processed foods, have struggled to find sustainable alternatives to MLP.

“One of the key challenges in India, is recycling of multi layered plastics given infrastructure constraints. While on the one hand, we continue to work with the government to support collection, segregation and recycling, we felt it was critical to experiment and support enterprising technologies and initiatives that can recycle multi layered plastics at scale to address the issues of waste management," Iyer said.

Iyer said finding a sustainable and a cost-effective alternative to MLP could take years of research and industry-wide efforts.

“Unfortunately, today, we don't have any other commercially viable material to substitute plastics but there's a lot of work happening. This is not a company initiative but an industry initiative. Till that comes, we still have to solve for plastic waste recycling," Iyer told Mint in an interview.

The initiative through funding by Mondelez India and in partnership with its impact investing arm, Sustainable Futures, is expected to begin commercial production in July 2021.

This pilot project is especially exciting because it has global potential to help solve not just plastic waste, but also reduce the huge environmental footprint of the building and construction industry, said Venkatesh Kini, co-founder, Ubuntoo.

TrashCon has invented patented technology to convert MLP coming from houses, streets and even landfills into an alternative to plywood.

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