India goes green: Khadi stores get new paper bags, made with recycled single-use plastic waste
The first-of-a-kind product is made with 20% recycled single-use plastic waste.
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Forty-eight hours before President Ram Nath Kovind was to swear in the new Modi Cabinet on a sweltering May evening, he decided that water bottles be served in special white handmade paper bags to the dignitaries in attendance.
The little-known Kumarappa National Handmade Paper Institute (KNHPI) of Jaipur sprang into action and delivered the 700-plus customised bottle bags, just the kind that the President had asked for.
These were no simple handmade paper carry bags. They were the first-ofa-kind product made with 20% recycled single-use plastic waste, which was welded in with cotton rags to create a reusable carry bag.
That was the story in May 2019.
Back in August 2018, the same KNHPI — an autonomous body for research and development of handmade paper under the Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) of the Ministry of Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises — was running huge losses. It stood, in fact, on the verge of closure.
On his way to the KNHPI unit in Rajasthan to announce the closure of the lossmaking operation, KVIC chairman VK Saxena crossed a nallah, choked with plastic bags.
“It was an ugly sight and bothered me considerably. I felt something must be urgently done about this plastic menace which was becoming so commonplace,” Saxena said. “I went to KNHPI and said I would close it down unless they could create something worthwhile with all the plastic waste clogging the nallah outside. At first, they simply said it was not possible. I refused to budge and it worked. The plastic waste was collected and brought to the unit, washed and chopped and mixed with cotton rags and put through machines there and out rolled the first plastic-paper sheet,” recalled Saxena.
The paper-plastic sheets have been rolling out ever since from KNHPI, which is set to report its first profit year, in a long long while and has filed for a patent.
Its signature paper bags made with recycled plastic waste are now being sold across Khadi stores in India. The tally is already 5 lakh bags sold and counting.
In fact, the PSU that was staring at closure a few months ago is not just taking up commercial production of the bags but expanding its repertoire further.
It has recently begun supplying file folders made from its unique handmade paper sheet and various government departments are queuing up, Saxena said.
It is also working out to be a more cost-effective production for KVIC. The cost of each such standard-size handmade paper bag has come down to Rs 12.10 after the plastic mix from Rs 15.50.
This, however, is only a small beginning, said the KVIC chairman.
The KVIC is set to launch a more ambitious REPLAN programme —‘Reducing Plastic from Nature’ — to reduce plastic litter and find ways for its reuse.
Plans are afoot to involve 2,640 papermaking units in the government sector (including 148 under the KVIC and 2,347 under state KVI boards) to take the mission of plastic reduction further.
Each of these 2,640 units will be tasked with producing one lakh handmade paper carry bags. It is estimated that manufacture of 26.4 crore bags will help utilise about 5,280 tonnes of plastic waste — 2 tonnes of plastic waste is used for one lakh bags.
The KVIC assesses this would generate local employment of about 26,400 — labour is needed for collecting the plastic waste as well as for cleaning and helping in processing the waste. The commission will enhance the collection remuneration for each collector to Rs9 per kg from the existing Rs7.50.
Five new units will also be set up to step up production further.
That apart, there are plans for technology transfer. “There is huge scope for this technology as this material is quite durable. Paper bags and folders are one segment, there is much more possibility of use in the publication industry, where the reinforced paper can be used as the hardbound material, in passbooks of banks and post offices and even for art works,” Saxena pointed out.
A beginning has been made with KNHPI recently training 25 youth from Jammu & Kashmir in the technology, in a collaboration with the Indian Army. Five of them are already in the process of setting up their own units back home.
Mindful of the Prime Minister’s recent exhortation to cut single-use plastic by 2022, Saxena conceded that the KNHPI experiment could not be the one-stop solution to the plastic menace.
The intervention stands starkly against the 3.6 million tonnes of plastic waste estimated to be generated in India every year. PET bottles, small plastic articles and poly bags are among the items that do not get recycled at all and enter India’s waterbodies, clog drainage, enter streams and the sea. Along the way, they are consumed by livestock, often with fatal results.
Saxena thinks that the enormity of the challenge should not stop a small step from attempting a larger footprint.
Experiments are already on, therefore, at KHNPI to push up plastic waste content in the material.
While currently the KHNPI bags use 20% single-use plastic waste with 80% cotton fabric, experiments are on to take the plastic quotient to 30% in the next bag it churns out.