Palm oil mission; tableware from pine needles

WhatPackaging?’s weekly updates on news stories gearing toward a sustainable future.

21 Aug 2021 | By WhatPackaging? Team

Palm oil mission could stoke disaster

A plan cleared by the Union Cabinet to expand domestic palm oil output in ecologically-sensitive regions could be environmentally perilous unless backed by a set of strong safeguards, experts have said, citing disastrous impacts on growers in Malaysia and Indonesia. To cut India’s growing reliance on import of edible oils, the government recently approved the National Mission on Edible Oils-Oil Palm (NMEO-OP), allocating Rs 11,040 crore for it. The programme seeks to promote plantations in the northeastern regions, besides the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

Edible oil plantations, as opposed to oilseeds crops, tend to replace natural tropical forests, depleting biodiversity. Environmental case studies in forested belts of Sumatra, Borneo and the Malay Peninsula — which produce 90% of global palm oil — have found commercial cultivation had decimated swathes of pristine forests, wiping out wildlife, from orangutans to birds.

Startup making tableware from pine needles

Delhi-headquartered Vasshin Composites uses pine needles to manufacture sustainable tableware and other products ensure sustainability. Abhinav Talwar started Vasshin Composites along with Bhoomi Thakkar in 2019. The startup aims to replace plastics with goods made out of pine needles. The startup also aims to create awareness about sustainability with them. Through their brand Vasshin Agro Composites, founded in 2020, the startup produces tableware and cutlery, including plates, trays, glasses, bowls, etc which ranges anywhere between Rs 350 and Rs 1,500 depending on the product. It also makes sustainable Lego blocks with pines to cater to children. These products are made from a blend of pine needles with metals, and other minerals. While the products are durable, they may degrade over regular usage. However, Vasshin’s products would decompose easily compared to plastic tableware and cutlery.

Plastic waste a new income source for Sunderbans villagers  

After being battered by Cyclone Amphan and Cyclone Yaas, the Sunderbans has been receiving an unregulated inflow of relief material. As a result, a new crisis has gripped the island— plastic waste. Mahajibon, a local NGO, had recovered about 300-kg of plastic waste from the Gosaba block alone days after cyclone Yaas. On June 5 (World Environment Day), the West Bengal government came up with a project to help the local rural society through a programme that aims to stop dumping of plastic in land and water. The government's decision to provide monetary incentives to villagers for collecting and returning plastic waste has led to mass involvement as well as the creation of self-help groups for women. A large number of local people as well as over 50 NGOs have joined the programme. “We are offering Rs 100 for one sack of plastic. The nine islands in Gosaba cover an area of 2,500-square km, of which 285-square km have human habitations. So far, we have collected more than 11-metric tonnes of plastic," said Saurabh Mitra, the community block development officer of Gosaba.

Reusing 10% will stop almost half of plastic waste from entering the ocean

The Future of Reusable Consumption Models insight report, published by The World Economic Forum’s Future of Consumption Platform in collaboration with Kearney, has highlighted innovative solutions to the pollution created by single-use plastic. It finds that the key will be to move from a “linear” waste economy — in which a product’s existence follows a one-way line from manufacture to usage to the landfill — to a “circular” economy in which items are reused or recycled indefinitely. The report shows that reuse models are not only viable, but also capable of generating added value across the economy. At the moment, only a fraction of our plastic waste — 14%, according to a report by the World Economic Forum and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation — gets recycled. Only 2% is “effectively recycled”; that is, converted into an equally useful item. Most recycled plastic is “downcycled” into something less useful than before, and is only recycled once before heading to a landfill or the ocean. Instead of devoting resources to waste removal and treatment, we need to focus on eliminating waste.

The Future of Consumption Platform aims to forge responsible models of consumption that are equitable, promote societal wellbeing and protect the planet. Its Consumers Beyond Disposability initiative brings together leading private- and public-sector organizations committed to offering consumers sustainable and affordable alternatives to single-use products.

Singapore to establish circular plastic model

Internationally, Singapore is known for its exceptional standards when it comes to cleanliness. Yet, the current waste management model employed in Singapore follows linear rather than circular thinking, as most of the municipal waste produced is incinerated. Considering that the city’s only landfill — which is where incinerated ash and non-incinerable waste are usually sent — will reach full capacity by 2035, the development of alternative, sustainable waste treatment methods grow ever more important.

In the wake of these issues, Grace Fu, Malaysian Minister for Sustainability and Environment, inaugurated the new Plastic Recycling Association of Singapore (PRAS) to tackle the city’s growing waste problem. One of the projects planned by PRAS relates to the establishment of a PET bottle recycling plant. Upon completion in 2022, the facility will let scientists determine to what extent recycling solutions should be adjusted to the region. The initiative is meant to stimulate local recycling capabilities.