Yash Pakka: progress report on alternative to single-use plastic

Abhishek Muralidharan of WhatPackaging? speaks to Ved Krishna, vice-chairman, Yash Pakka, about the company’s Chuk brand, a bagasse-based substitute for packaging

29 May 2021 | By Abhishek Muralidharan

As a key focus area in their corporate social responsibility goals, top brands are taking concrete steps to incorporate sustainable packaging in their production system. Followed by the rising inclination of consumers towards environment-friendly products and government initiatives to replace single-use plastics.

According to a report by Mordor Intelligence, the global biodegradable packaging market was valued at USD 93.59-billion in 2020 and is expected to grow by USD 126.85-billion by 2026. A USD 126.85-million market – that’s the potential packaging companies across the globe can aim to tap.

Here’s one company, Uttar Pradesh-based paper and flexible package manufacturer, Yash Pakka, which has been on the environmental bandwagon with its compostable and biodegradable offerings for close to three decades.

The company claims that all products under its Chuk brand are made from sugarcane residue, which is completely compostable and is a perfect replacement for styrofoam tableware and single-use- plastics. The company boasts its clientele among marquee names, such as the Indian Railways, The Park, Hyatt, Haldiram’s, Google, Amazon and Starbucks, among others. Chuk has been awarded as one of the top 10 environmentally sustainable brands by the B-Corp organisation.  

“At Chuk, we produce eco-friendly tableware using sugarcane bagasse. Compared to plastic, which takes more than 500 years to decompose, our products are 100% compostable that decompose within months in backyard compostable systems. Our tableware is sturdy enough to prevent leakage of your favourite food item, but yet lightweight to make packing easy. There is no aroma migration so you will be happy that your butter chicken smells as delicious as it meant to be,” says Ved Krishna, vice-chairman, Yash Pakka.

Excerpts from the interview:

Abhishek Muralidharan (AM): As you rely on agricultural residue as the primary raw material for your products, how do you ensure a steady supply?

Ved Krishna (VK): Our products are made from locally-sourced sugarcane fibre, called bagasse, that is untreated with any kind of chemicals. Sugarcane is produced in abundance in the nearby villages. The farmers bring the sugarcane crop to the mill, which squeezes all the juice out and then the stalk is left behind. We use that fibrous stalk to make the pulp used to manufacture our tableware products. We have long term contracts with villages within a 100-km of radius our factory and access to raw material is actually one of our strengths. We are looking to double up the production capacity within this year.

AM: Do you feel that this system ensures a steadier flow than availing virgin materials?
VK: Yes, we are completely focused on utilising waste agricultural fibres for our packaging offerings. It can answer all our demand and supply answers in terms of sustainability. I believe that boutique solutions will not help the large goals. Significant raw material flow is important and usage of residues is better than trying to hunt for virgin materials. That said, there will be various other solutions that would evolve, based on other natural materials in the coming times.

Chuk focuses on producing eco-friendly tableware using sugarcane bagasse

AM: Many plastic alternatives have been proposed in recent times, but these solutions often fail to attain scale. How are you addressing this at Yash Pakka?
In the world of impact investing, it is our brand’s conscious effort to replace single-use plastics by providing compostable packages. From the beginning, our focus has been innovation and sustainability. All our tableware products are manufactured using agri-residue pulp. This makes the products lightweight for ease in handling, flexible to protect from damage, and strong to prevent spillage. Also, post-usage, these products turn into manure within 60 days, completing the loop. More so, we also recover 95% of the cooking chemicals used to manufacture the pulp, thereby adding to our environment-friendly quotient.

AM: What are the eco-friendly products on offer at Yash Pakka. Can you shed some light on the present state of R&D in this domain?
VK: We cater to three broad market segments. Firstly, bags produced from paper made from sugarcane fibre. We are working on reinforcing the same. The targets are to double the strength levels, add water resistance and a higher stretch level.

Secondly, food services. We have created a line of pulp-moulded products as alternates to styrofoam (EPS) and its works well as serviceware. We are now working on understanding and cracking the code on delivery, which we plan to do this year.

And finally, flexible packaging. We have developed some offerings based on agri papers and bio-plastics. We have done beta studies on non-aromatic products (instant noodles, nuts, pulses and so on) and are perfecting the same.

Apart from this, we will also be establishing the largest factory in the country for food wrapping products (grease resistant butter paper).

 Krishna: Boutique solutions will not help the large goals

AM: One thing is for sure, the need for packaging has only gone up with this current pandemic situation. What new opportunities have these times thrown at you?
Packaging has certainly boomed amid this pandemic. We are seeing significant long- and short-term shifts globally. There is an unprecedented shift towards online shopping and delivery, which has led to a substantial increase in packaging consumption. However, unfortunately, a lot of these substrates used are unsustainable and we are working towards alternatives. Thus, it has given rise to many new opportunities.

AM: So, do you feel that sustainability has taken a backseat amidst the pandemic?
Yes. As there is a slowdown in the will towards reducing single-use plastics and as we see uninhibited use of the same in carry bags, PPE kits, bottled water and so on. It seems that consumption has become arbitrary in the guise of self-care. This will hurt the planet further. However, our government has begun taking measures to curb the situation. And we look forward to the effective implementation of these measures so that more innovation can be encouraged.

AM: What are the positive steps taken by the government and what else can be done by the lawmakers to facilitate the adoption of compostable packaging?
A line of stringent government norms, issuing mandates on using sustainable as well as eco-friendly packaging solutions can further facilitate the adoption. The government has introduced a couple of good measures on this front. However, some other factors that can make sustainable packaging more viable for different players such as food and beverages, quick service restaurants and so on, are tax waivers at the grassroots level. In addition, GST incentives for both the manufacture and the businesses can also be a helpful step.

AM: You highlighted that online shopping and delivery is growing. So, how are you planning to cater to this new market potential?
VK: Well, as there is a significant shift in people eating out and thus, there is an adverse impact on our country’s food service business. So, we are working towards finding new delivery solutions. However, these products are difficult to perfect using natural fibres, but we are exploring workable products.

AM: What role does training and awareness play in the spread of compostable plastics?
There is a rising concern for sustainability and awareness among consumers. More than ever, consumers are now becoming conscious of what they are purchasing, consuming and receiving. Including the past couple of years, and especially during the pandemic, we have seen a significant shift wherein people saying no to using plastics, owing to health concerns. This is gradually driving them to choose sustainable and eco-friendly products. More training and awareness will only accelerate the ongoing process of choosing sustainable products. 

Yash Pakka: at a glance

Infrastructure: The company has an installed manufacturing capacity of 39,100 MT paper per annum and one million pieces of tableware per day along with an 8.5 MW electricity plant that runs on biomass

Product segments: Paper, moulded products and compostable flexible packaging

Annual turnover: Rs 202.95-crore

2025 target: To emerge as a global leader by 2025 with an annual turnover of Rs 1,400-crore