Huhtamaki joins hands with RiverRecycle, VTT to tackle Mithi river waste

Packaging major Huhtamaki has partnered with Finnish cleantech start-up RiverRecycle and VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, to develop a waste collector technology to tackle river pollution. This new technology is now operational at the Mithi river in Mumbai.

28 Aug 2021 | By WhatPackaging? Team

The waste collector is now operational at the Mithi river in Mumbai

Huhtamaki donated €600,000 to fund the development and piloting of a river waste collector, invented by RiverRecycle. A prototype of this waste collector was built and tested in Finland. It was then transported to and assembled in Mumbai, where it is now operational. The system will be collecting waste from the Mithi river for the next 12 months.

Thomasine Kamerling, executive vice president sustainability and communications at Huhtamaki, said, “We believe in protecting food, people and the planet. We also believe that cooperation across the value chain with key stakeholders is needed to address global sustainability challenges such as in the case of marine plastics. If we want to drive systemic change, we not only need to support the development and commercialisation of innovation that can help stop waste from getting into the oceans, but we also need the monetisation of waste and incentivisation of local communities to improve their waste management practices.”

Anssi Mikola, CEO and founder of RiverRecycle, said, “When operating in a circular economy, cooperation among different players is fundamental to sustainability. Huhtamaki funding enabled us to complete two of the three parts of our journey of transforming plastic waste into a resource, with the positive engagement of affected communities. Its commitment is an example of how collaboration helps solve global problems such as plastic waste pollution."

The Mithi river project is run by a global partnership between UNTIL (now known as UN Global Pulse), VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, RiverRecycle and Earth5R, an India-based citizen-led environmental movement.

In addition to building, setting up and operating the river cleaner for a year, Huhtamaki claims that its donation has been used to organise local hands-on workshops on effective waste management and recycling to drive systemic change. The project also provides inputs to the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland on floating waste and its seasonal variations that can be used to optimise clean-up operations and recycling processes for the future.

Jukka Sassi, senior scientist, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, said, “The Huhtamaki funding enables the adaption of optical sensors and drones in the detection of floating plastic objects and differentiation of plastics from organic material. VTT’s contribution also includes pyrolysis test runs and assessing chemical recycling of the recovered plastic waste fractions. At a broader level, we aim to enhance circular economy solutions for the global challenge of plastic waste pollution. In addition to the technology involved, we also appreciate the collaboration between local partners and communities as an essential part of the successful project implementation.”

Huhtamaki aims to have 100% of its products designed to be recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2030.

The company has 16 units that manufacture flexible packaging for food, pharmaceuticals and personal and home care products in India. A range of these products are manufactured using the company’s blueloop concept for recyclable flexible packaging structures. In addition to the Mithi river project, it is contributing to the building of a recycling infrastructure by setting up a pilot recycling plant for flexible packaging in India which should be operational by the end of 2021.

Sudip Mall, managing director, Flexible Packaging India at Huhtamaki, said, ‘’We are excited to be a part of this global partnership and the development of the technology enabling us to clean Mithi, the only river that flows through the heart of Mumbai. This project promotes sustainability with a holistic approach by collecting plastic waste, while also empowering local communities to gain knowledge and employment.’’

The Mithi river project is one of three initiatives that Huhtamaki funded as part of its 100th anniversary.