In July 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 in Mumbai with some of the largest local and multi-national consumer goods companies in India.

The idea behind 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 plastics pollution. 23 people attended, representing 11 companies, as well as representatives from World Resources Institute (WRI) India and XYNTEO.

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. Participants each shared some of their organisational successes, challenges and priorities for plastic packaging, and on a personal level, what a plastic pollution free India might look like to them. The group then explored the practicalities for achieving their preferred plastic-free futures.

With their 'preferred futures’ in mind, the team identified and prioritised ideas and actions they could work on collaboratively in addressing the issue of plastic pollution. A long list of ideas was generated but summarised into the six main themes below.

1. Forming a national industry body focused on plastics

The proposed new national industry body would lead projects on behalf of members, including working together on a national strategy and targets, providing a strong voice with government, and educating consumers about appropriate disposal and recycling. 

2. Shared visions and targets

While business leaders 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 dive further change. Along the lines of the UK's Plastic Pact, this shared vision could be co-ordinated by the new peak body.

3. Knowledge sharing and peer learning

Business leaders acknowledged the importance of peer-to-peer learning and identified an opportunity to develop and share a list of credible, responsible waste management organisations.  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 behaviour change

The team proposed a national communications campaign to engage consumers and raise their awareness of recycling and the need for responsible disposal. The group proposed another campaign that would run through schools, educating them on the importance of recycling and proper plastics 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 opportunity 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 business leaders 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 pelletisers to feed waste to energy (WTE) markets
  • recognise and reward the informal sector to bring inclusivity and create a ‘feel good’ factor.

During the course of the Forum, business leaders demonstrated goodwill, a genuine concern for the future and a strong desire to collaborate and address the issue of plastics-pollution. They 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 for the future however, is to ensure that the goodwill and commitment demonstrated at the Forum is converted into action.