RAW Pressery's Anuj Rakyan on recycling plastic, managing waste, and creating awareness to build a sustainable brand
Thirteen years ago, when Anuj Rakyan hurt his back playing football, he realized physiotherapy alone wouldn’t help him get back on his feet. So he started experimenting with diet and nutrition, making juices at home—this turned out to be the genesis of his business years later.
He calls sugar the new tobacco and has a problem with unregulated and hidden sugar in everything—from breads and cereals to biscuits. “Unregulated sugar comes without nutrition, and has empty calories. That’s unhealthy. Our company’s relationship with sugar is that we don’t add any, but work with fruits which have natural sugar and come packed with nutrition. We are all good, no bad."
Today, the managing director of Rakyan Beverages Pvt. Ltd, which produces RAW Pressery juices, believes he might have a way to create a sustainable lifestyle brand with products made from recycled plastic.
He calls it ecological karma. “We take so much from the earth and we abuse it. It will come back to us. While everyone looks at karma in a what-goes-comes-back context, what we talk about is, if you take a drop out of the ocean, it would not make a difference, but every drop makes the ocean."
In his attempt to do the right thing vis-à-vis the environment, Rakyan has a three-step plan, part of which is already under way.
From next year, the beverage company will function out of another facility in Panvel, near Mumbai (the current one is in the same area), driven by solar power. What works for business works on the personal front too—as he moves apartments in Mumbai, he is looking to get solar panels installed at home.
“Solar plant economics are as stable as, if not better than, fossil fuels," says Rakyan at his office in Lower Parel. “It’s about being plugged into the grid and storage costs being appropriated. We are seeing solar as a saviour for us."
Second, the company that sells fresh fruit and vegetable juices by cold-compressing them in controlled environments, is trying to minimize waste —the juicing process is left with the seed, stem and fibre, insoluble material devoid of nutrition. It works with farmers and animal shelters to use this as secondary raw material for manure or fodder.
“Whether we dispose or deliver it, I have to bear the cost, so I might as well do the right thing. I can’t dump it outside my factory," he says.
Third, RAW Pressery’s juices come in plastic bottles, an environmental hazard. When it started its business in 2013, it had the choice of using glass or plastic, and, “against conventional wisdom", Rakyan realized glass is not good either.
It’s nine times heavier, so they would have had to move nine more vehicles in the supply chain than they would for plastic, leading to a bigger carbon footprint and added expense. Moreover, glass appeared unsafe; given Indian infrastructure—for example, bad roads—the bottles would start splintering with use.
“We pressurize liquids instead of pasteurizing them because it’s more nutritious for the product—we cannot pressurize glass," says Rakyan. “We work with plastic that’s BPA grade, no toxins, leeching, etc."
Though he acknowledges that single-use plastic is not eco-friendly, he believes there is no better solution because “man has not yet invented anything better". The problem, he says, is waste management—whether it’s single- or multi-use plastic. On its part, the company collects PET bottles from homes, stores and rag-pickers in Mumbai for recycling.
RAW Pressery started this in February 2017 at SulaFest, the annual cultural festival held at Sula Vineyards in Nashik. It partners with another firm to break down and convert the plastic to yarn or filaments—much like cotton—and make clothes for domestic use.
“We will have to keep using plastic, but we will create awareness that you need to manage waste. So we are doing one thing for our packaging and another for our raw material to see how sustainable it is," adds Rakyan.
This year, the company will start Rawcycle, an initiative to increase awareness about plastic pollution and offer incentives for the recycling of PET bottles.
Rakyan also wants to build a cooperative network that collects used plastic items to create “a cool brand" that makes sustainable products like T-shirts, blankets and shoes.
“Consumers say they want to save the world, they protest and become activists, but no one is committed," says the 38-year-old. “We started realizing that people make a noise but few do anything about it. For six-eight months, we were not able to figure out the model. Now we have picked up steam," says Rakyan, who was earlier in the jewellery business.
He cites the example of Adidas’ work with Parley for the Ocean, an organization tackling the global plastic crisis—making shoes from plastic collected from the ocean. “The real aim is to have products upcycled from plastic for ₹ 50-200.
“Rawcycle will become the label, not the brand," says Rakyan. “We could do this with a famous stationery or apparel brand, we will collaborate with an existing brand that has a consumer connect."
Millennial Managers is a series which decodes the management techniques and wellness practices of leaders under 40
Art as a tool to tackle waste
Using art to inspire public action and awareness, Delhi-based non-profit Kala Drishti, which promotes art, is encouraging youngsters to create art from waste and drive the cleanliness effort.
“I’ve tried to link art with the environment as it is a major topic, and relevant today. I’m using art as a tool to highlight the problem of waste and seek action," says Anjali Jain, a Delhi-based artist and Kala Drishti founder.
The non-profit, Jain says, has taken art as a “cause to heal society" by skilling underprivileged children living in urbanized villages in the Capital.
It is running a free summer art camp in Delhi’s Karkardooma village where children, under the guidance of professional artists, paint walls and create decorative and other items from waste.
Earlier this month, to mark World Environment Day, the NGO’s artists created an array of works from waste materials—CDs, wooden boxes, wires, steel, cotton, newspaper, ice-cream sticks, and more.