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Paper Industry’s preparedness for the proposed single use plastic ban in 2022

The world has produced 9.1 billion tonnes of plastic since 1950, out of which 6.9 billion tons has become waste, and only 9 per cent of that has been recycled, the remaining ends up in landfills and in the world’s oceans posing a huge threat to not only the environment but life on land and in water as well.

“A Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) report (2018-19) puts the total annual plastic waste generation in India at a humungous 3.3 million metric tonnes per year. Even this data, frightening as it is, might be an underestimation. While India’s plastic waste problem is not as huge as that of the rich world, it is definitely growing.”[1] 

The Prime Minister wants India to eliminate single-use plastics by 2022, following on the footsteps of major nations around the world that are waging a war on them. The phasing out was necessary not just for the welfare of the environment but also aquatic life which was being affected by the consumption of single-use plastics and to curb many civic problems such as blocked drains and roads by plastic.

To bring in effect the same, Plastic Waste Management Amendment Rules, 2021 have been published by the India Government stating the details of the ban. The ban though will not be a blanket ban as expected. The items that will be banned beginning next year are—Earbuds with plastic sticks, plastic sticks for balloons, plastic flags, candy sticks, ice-cream sticks, polystyrene (thermocol) for decoration, plastic plates, cups, glasses, cutlery such asforks, spoons and knives, straw, trays, wrapping films around sweet boxes, invitation cards, and cigarette packets, plastic or PVC banners less than 100-microns and stirrers. The ban will not apply to commodities made of compostable plastic.

“The reasoning behind the rules that we have come out with is that we have eliminated the plastic for which the cost of collection was huge as well as having a high environmental cost on one hand, but the economic cost is little,” said a Ministry official.[2]

Paper as an Alternative

The single use plastics Industry currently stands at Rs. 80,000 crore and is growing. Amid a growing debate over impact of single use plastics on environment and actions taken by various governments, paper offers a sustainable option.

According to a study released at the world’s largest paper fair, PAPEREX organized by Hyve India, a 100 per cent subsidiary of Hyve Group Plc, London, “While uncollected plastic waste poses a huge threat to species on land and in water, single-use plastic bags and styrofoam containers can take up to 1,000 years to decompose, Paper, on the other hand, is eco-friendly green product and bio-degradable. It was a myth that the paper industries cut trees for production, and consumption of water and energy is high. In fact, there has been a significant shift on non-timber alternatives in recent years with more players coming in the sector.”[3]

The main problem with respect to plastic use was that many plastic commodities were not being collected and recycled. India generated 26,000 tonnes per day of plastic waste in 2017-18, of that only 60 per cent was recycled and the rest ended up as litter on roads, in landfills or streams creating various other environmental, civic and health issues. Packaging accounts for a third of India’s plastic consumption, and 70 per cent of plastic packaging is turned into waste in a short span.

Production of one tonne paper requires 2.1 tonne of wood but forest wood is not being utilised for paper manufacturing. Companies use 46 per cent raw material from recycled paper, 29 per cent from agro residue and 29 per cent from plantation wood. Besides, paper promotes literacy, hygiene and reduces pollution by using agro residue like bagasse, straw etc.

The average cost of collecting paper trash is Rs 20 per kg as compared to Rs 30 to 36 per kg for plastic waste. The average cost of recycling of paper is Rs 32 per kg and recycling of plastic  waste is Rs 22 to Rs 35 per kg.  Moreover, transporting cost of paper is also less than that of plastic. This clearly states the economic viability of paper over plastic besides environmental benefits. 55-60 per cent energy can be saved if paper is used in place of plastic as energy consumption for paper production is 0.59 to 1.19 tonne of oil equivalent per tonne as opposed to 1.48 to 2.58 a tonne in plastic, the study also said.

Because of the fundamental and technological revolution in the paper industry, 100 per cent of paper produced is recyclable and biodegradable. It is up to the common man to save the environment and how replacing use of plastic with paper in our everyday life can reduce pollution and promote recycling.

Paper Industry

The requirement of better quality packaging products, especially in the wake of the plastic ban and demand for other products including paper cutlery, tissue paper, filter paper, tea bags, cardboard etc are expected to take off and drive the paper and paper products market in the coming years. Paper industry is going through the transformation phase, with using less power and water and adopting sustainable means of production with the advent of new technologies and innovation in the sector. Cost of production of recycled paper has also become at least 30-40 per cent cheaper than the recycled plastic.

“There is a big opportunity for paper industry as it is ready to take 25 per cent market share of single-use plastic by 2025 if totally banned by the government,” said J P Narain, VP, Indian Paper & Manufacturers Association and CEO of Century Paper.[4]

But as mentioned above, it would still take a lot of time, efforts and investments to be able to fully capture the single-use plastic market in India. The pace we are working at right now is not sufficient to meet the rising demand that we would be seeing in the next couple of years in the wake of the ban. Paper Industry not only needs innovation and fast paced technology but all this needs to happen at scale if we are to really impose the ban
strictly and with it, we need new players in the market as well. As the production volumes grow, economies of scale comes into play and the cost of production comes down.

The major challenge before the domestic paper industry is the availability of raw materials in sufficient quantity and at globally competitive prices. India is fibre deficient country, whether wood or agro
residue or recycled waste paper. Since the raw material is a major cost component of the production of paper, this single factor adversely impacts the cost competitiveness and on scale production of the Indian industry as compared to other competing countries. Cheap imports at relatively low prices are one of the solutions to this problem. The influx of waste paper imports from abroad
has helped an industry in India that until last year was in serious decline due to the scarcity and cost of waste paper to recycle.

The Indian recycling industry needs more than 14 million tonnes of waste paper to meet the ever increasing demands. Domestic recycling only produces approximately 30% of that amount and recycling levels are only half the global average.[5]

India is fastest growing paper market, growing at over 7 per cent and projected to grow at over 4 per cent per annum till 2030 to 27 million by 2030. For adding new capacities to meet growing demand it needs investments of approximately Rs 90,000 crore.[6] The industry needs both innovation and investments but what will help the most is support from the government in form of subsidies and investments to help it grow at the pace it needs to.

Craste uses an innovative process to make paper packaging products from crop residues which ensures less water consumption and Zero Level Discharge from the pulping unit. For every ton of paper we produce, 24 trees are saved.

Incentivizing such sustainable and eco-friendly methods and promoting state-of-the-art technologies to increase the paper production and supporting startups in the
sector will lead to growth of the industry to bring it in par with the demand. The environmental and social benefits of such practices and technologies are unmatchable in addition to the economic benefits.

[1] Sukanya Nair. (2020). Plastic waste is India’s and the world’s most formidable environmental challenge today, and the COVID-19 pandemic has made matters worse: CSE. Centre for Science and Environment.

[2] Esha Roy. (2021). Candy sticks to earbuds: Govt bans single-use plastic from 2022. Indian Express. prohibited-july-2022-7452712/

[3] Press Trust of India. (2019). Paper to capture 25% of the Rs 80,000 cr single use plastics market by 2025. Business Standard.

[4] Press Trust of India. (2019). Paper to capture 25% of the Rs 80,000 cr single-use plastics market by 2025. Business

[5] Navin Singh Khadka. (2019) Why India is a world leader in waste paper. BBC.

[6] Press Trust of India. (2016). Domestic paper industry needs Rs 90k crore investment by 2030. The Economic Times. marbles/-domestic-paper-industry-needs-rs-90k crore-investment-by 2030/articleshow/54484182.cms?from=mdr