The glandular secretion from a single ungulate can come in various forms – plastic packets, tetra packs, glass bottles and in unpacked versions. During the Neolithic Revolution, the humans who learned to wring milk around 9,000 years ago hardly wondered about environmental consternation they were unleashing.
Maharashtra’s milk pouches buyback scheme
is believed to be the country’s first plastic milk pouches buyback system. The buyback scheme essentially aims to establish a process in place for the collection of used plastic milk pouches from the customers by the retailers. The whole objective is to reduce plastic litter contaminating the environment by rotting in landfills and increase recycling by paying customers. The onus of recycling this hoarded plastic would be either on the milk manufacturer or plastic manufacturer. Maharashtra government had erstwhile exempted milk packets from the state-wide plastic ban and this milk plastic buyback scheme takes care of that leftover dairy debris.
Amul is currently circulating 26 million milk packets and 1.5 million tetra packs of milk per day across India, generating as much waste. India is generating around 15,000 tonnes of plastic waste, every day. Out of 15,000 tonnes of generated plastic waste, only 9,000 tonnes is collected and recycled and the remaining but 6,000 tonnes of plastic waste is not being collected. This discarded plastic ends up indiscriminately clogging drains and water bodies, floating in rivers or piling up in landfills. Chintan, an NGO had conducted garbage audit in Delhi which states that 36 percent of the total branded plastics collected in a sample of mixed garbage is just “low-recyclable value cups and tetra packs” of Mother Dairy, Amul, etc. brands. In Maharashtra alone, around 10 million milk pouches are dispensed on a daily basis. Importantly, only a fraction of 10 million milk pouches is picked up by rag pickers. The plastic in landfills when catches fire, especially during summer, emits cancer causing-furans and dioxins.
According to Plastic Waste Management (Amended) Rules 2018, every plastic manufacturer producing packaging trash has to set up a semi-formal structure called PRO (Producer Responsibility Organization) for waste plastic collection and recycling. A PRO is a borrowed European concept whereby the producer’s responsibility of managing the waste is transferred to the PRO. The PRO will meet the extended producer’s responsibility for managing the end-to-end operations associated with waste management. Dairies should hire the PROs and give them the mandate to collect the waste milk packets. The PROs must work with the state government, milk distributors and rag pickers.
In Maharashtra, effectively implementing the buyback policy for milk packets which are circulated in heavy numbers, will be a challenge for the authorities. The state government is exhorting customers to return milk packets to retailers. Although state government can implement key strategies, adopt new technology, provide infrastructure solutions and plan for waste plastic recycling, successful implementation of waste plastic reduction and recycling strategies require the ongoing support of the local community. State government should seriously think about increasing the sale of unpacked milk and also encourage consumers to buy unpackaged milk from the bulk vending machine. Maharashtra government should also think about building a robust network of milk vending machines so that unpacked milk is easily accessible, thereby reducing the use of plastic packaging. In fact, all the dairies should join hands and frame a policy to eliminate the ubiquitous usage of synthetic polymer for packaging milk products.
The dairies and the cooperative societies will have to take the onus of collection of all empty milk packets for recycling. The delivery boys who deliver milk to customers, can also collect the empty packages from consumers the next day and return to the distribution centers. This will ensure that almost all milk packets make their way back to dairies.
Also, the government should print the buyback details on the milk packets to encourage the customers to return the milk packets. This buyback scheme will reduce the volume of litter from milk packets entering our environment by providing an incentive for the collection and return of milk packets for recycling in exchange for a refundable surcharge.