◀ Back
Accept Decline
 A collaborative approach to engagement: Tackling Plastic Waste in India

A collaborative approach to engagement: Tackling Plastic Waste in India

Every year we produce around 400 million tonnes of plastic waste worldwide. Of the seven billion tonnes of waste amassed to date, less than 10% of this has been recycled. The remaining 90% is buried in landfills, makes its way overseas to be burnt, or is lost into the environment where it can live for up to 400 years.1

There is no escaping that plastic waste is a significant global environmental problem. Its myriad of uses have made it virtually ubiquitous, and its properties have made it an indispensable part of our everyday world. Over a third of all plastics produced are used in packaging; providing access to longer-lasting food, medicine, cosmetics and other perishable products, as well offering a cheaper, lighter (and therefore less carbon intensive to move around) packaging material than glass or metal. The result is that plastic, with its generally low recovery and recycling rates, has in many cases displaced other materials that are much more likely to be recycled.

The situation is particularly acute in India, where around 15 million tonnes of waste is produced every year. Over the last five years, the amount of plastic waste produced has doubled.2 While plastic has undoubtedly revolutionised modern life, it has also created an enormous burden on the environment, with many of India's cities struggling to manage the sheer volume of waste generated every day. The situation is exacerbated by the lack of awareness amongst consumers about the impact of plastic waste on the environment, as well as the limited infrastructure and resources available to effectively dispose of or recycle the waste.

One of the biggest challenges in India is the widespread use of single-use plastics such as sachets, straws, and bags, which are often discarded after just one use. EVOH (ethylene vinyl alcohol) offers the best resistance to gases such as oxygen and carbon dioxide, and hence the applications are widespread.  These small plastic packets, used to package everything from single use sachets of shampoo and detergent, to food and spices are estimated to account for over 70% of all plastic waste generated in India.

EVOH or ethylene vinyl alcohol offers the best resistance to gases such as oxygen, nitrogen and carbon dioxide. It is used to package food, drugs, cosmetics, and other perishable products.

PP or Polypropylene is one of the most commonly used thermos plastics in the world. Commonly used in packaging, injection moulding, fibres and fabrics, as well as tapes and ropes.

Phenol, isopropylated phosphate or PIP is most commonly used in footwear and in textiles, polyurethane foam, electronic equipment such as video display and baby bottle nipples.

Polyamide (PA) is common in textiles like clothing and carpets. It also often features in items that require both strength and flexibility, including fishing line and nets.

PVC or polyvinyl chloride is one of the most widely used polymers in the world, with widespread applications across industrial, technical, construction, transport, packaging, electrical/electronic and healthcare applications.

The challenge of collecting and managing this single use plastic waste is significant, as these items are often discarded indiscriminately and can end up littering streets, fields, and waterways. The Ganges, before it meets the Brahmaputra River and joins the Indian Ocean, flows through some of the most densely inhabited stretches of India and Bangladesh and is a vital water source for over 650 million people. It is also the second most polluted river in the world, carrying over 6,000 tons of plastic waste into the ocean every year.3

As the world's second-most populous country, the scale of India’s plastic waste problem is immense. 

As the world's second-most populous country, the scale of India’s plastic waste problem is immense. Addressing the problem requires a multifaceted approach that involves stakeholders across the value chain, from consumers and producers to policymakers and waste management authorities.

We have been investing in India for more than three decades, and some of our longest held businesses are Indian consumer companies, including Marico, a maker of coconut oil based personal care products, as well as Godrej Consumer and Dabur which sell personal care items. We have long held these companies in high regard, especially their approach to improving human health, but an area of concern over the years has been their use of single use plastic packaging.

In 2016 we commissioned a piece of research led by University of Technology Sydney, to assess 25 different consumer companies on ‘Packaging Sustainability’. The report provided a framework and guide for benchmarking packaging sustainability, and we were able to use the findings to begin individual engagements with the companies’ management teams. Early on in our discussions it became apparent that a number of our companies were struggling with the same issues, and so we offered to host an event in Mumbai to bring together leaders from some of India’s largest consumer goods companies, including Nestle India, Hindustan Unilever and Tata Consumer Products.

These discussions led to agreement on the need to set up an independent, industry body that would set industry-wide targets and enable companies to work together to achieve these goals. Post the forum, we held discussions with UK NGO WRAP, a global leader in delivering "Plastic Pacts" to help reduce, reuse, and recycle plastics across the entire value chain. WRAP had prior experience in successfully setting up plastic pacts in the UK, Canada, South Africa, Chile, New Zealand and many other countries, but were yet to tackle India. We were delighted that WRAP were open to working with the Confederation of Indian Industry and WWF-India to launch an Indian Plastic Pact and in September 2021, they made this a reality. We provided WRAP with multi-year funding which has been used to support the operational and technical resourcing required to develop and launch the Pact.

The Pact focuses on four ambitious, time-bound targets, seeking to address the barriers to circularity in the plastic packaging sector. It aims to unite businesses, governments, NGOs, and other stakeholders in creating a national framework, developing roadmaps to reach targets, measuring and reporting progress, and catalysing effective policies to engage citizens in the reuse, recycle and reduction of plastics.

Godrej Consumer Products, Marico, Hindustan Unilever, Tata Consumer Products and Beiersdorf India who attended the forum have since become members of the Pact, and we continue to encourage other companies to join. More information on the India Plastics Pact is available on their website: www.indiaplasticspact.org

Whilst it is challenging to measure success for this type of systemic engagement at the company level there has been a significant increase in post-consumer waste collection and increased use of recycled and recyclable plastics in packaging.

For example, Hindustan Unilever, Tata Consumer Products and Godrej Consumer have already become plastic neutral, whereby they collect more plastic from the environment than they produce. Marico has set a goal of a 100% recyclable, reusable, or compostable packaging portfolio by 2025 and removing all PVC use in packaging by 2025.

Godrej Consumer– is a plastic neutral company. They have also committed to the following goals by FY25:

  • Reduce packaging consumption per unit of production by 20% from the base year of fiscal year 2017-2018.
  • 100% of the packaging material is recyclable, reusable, recoverable, or compostable.
  • Use at least 10% post-consumer recycled (PCR) content in plastic packaging.

Marico – 96% of product packaging (by weight) is recyclable and they collected c.6,300mt (equivalent in weight) of post-consumer multi-layer product packaging in 2022. They have also committed to the following goals –

  • Zero Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) use in packaging by 2025
  • 100% recyclable, reusable or compostable packaging portfolio by 2025
  • Reduce packaging intensity by 10% by 2030 (from FY20)
  • 100% pellet loss free

Tata Consumer Products – is a plastic neutral company. They have also committed to the following goals by 2030:

  • Define a list of unnecessary or problematic plastic packaging and items and take measures to address them through redesign and innovation.
  • 100% of plastic packaging to be reusable or recyclable.
  • 50% of plastic packaging to be effectively recycled.
  • 25% average recycled content across all plastic packaging

Multi-layer plastic sachet packaging is still one of the most used formats in rural distribution across consumer goods, and remains a key challenge to address both in terms of collection and recyclability. We continue to engage with companies on this topic and provide support for the ongoing development of the Indian Plastics Pact, however there is still much more work to be done. In addition to improving waste collection and management infrastructure, there is still a need for greater public awareness and education on the issue.

Ultimately, addressing India's plastic waste problem will require a concerted effort from all stakeholders, including government, businesses, and individuals. By working together, it is possible to create a cleaner, more sustainable future for all.

Subscribe to our updates

To get regular updates and content from Stewart Investors, please register here.

Important information

This material is for general information purposes only. It does not constitute investment or financial advice and does not take into account any specific investment objectives, financial situation or needs. This is not an offer to provide asset management services, is not a recommendation or an offer or solicitation to buy, hold or sell any security or to execute any agreement for portfolio management or investment advisory services and this material has not been prepared in connection with any such offer. Before making any investment decision you should conduct your own due diligence and consider your individual investment needs, objectives and financial situation and read the relevant offering documents for details including the risk factors disclosure. Any person who acts upon, or changes their investment position in reliance on, the information contained in these materials does so entirely at their own risk.

We have taken reasonable care to ensure that this material is accurate, current, and complete and fit for its intended purpose and audience as at the date of publication but the information contained in the material may be subject to change thereafter without notice. No assurance is given or liability accepted regarding the accuracy, validity or completeness of this material.

To the extent this material contains any expression of opinion or forward-looking statements, such opinions and statements are based on assumptions, matters and sources believed to be true and reliable at the time of publication only. This material reflects the views of the individual writers only. Those views may change, may not prove to be valid and may not reflect the views of everyone at First Sentier Investors.

Past performance is not indicative of future performance. All investment involves risks and the value of investments and the income from them may go down as well as up and you may not get back your original investment. Actual outcomes or results may differ materially from those discussed. Readers must not place undue reliance on forward-looking statements as there is no certainty that conditions current at the time of publication will continue.

References to specific securities (if any) are included for the purpose of illustration only and should not be construed as a recommendation to buy or sell the same. Any securities referenced may or may not form part of the holdings of First Sentier Investors' portfolios at a certain point in time, and the holdings may change over time.

References to comparative benchmarks or indices (if any) are for illustrative and comparison purposes only, may not be available for direct investment, are unmanaged, assume reinvestment of income, and have limitations when used for comparison or other purposes because they may have volatility, credit, or other material characteristics (such as number and types of securities) that are different from the funds managed by First Sentier Investors.

Selling restrictions

Not all First Sentier Investors products are available in all jurisdictions.

This material is neither directed at nor intended to be accessed by persons resident in, or citizens of any country, or types or categories of individual where to allow such access would be unlawful or where it would require any registration, filing, application for any licence or approval or other steps to be taken by First Sentier Investors in order to comply with local laws or regulatory requirements in such country.

This material is intended for ‘professional clients’ (as defined by the UK Financial Conduct Authority, or under MiFID II), ‘wholesale clients’ (as defined under the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth) or Financial Markets Conduct Act 2013 (New Zealand) and ‘professional’ and ‘institutional’ investors as may be defined in the jurisdiction in which the material is received, including Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan and the United States, and should not be relied upon by or be passed to other persons.

The First Sentier Investors funds referenced in these materials are not registered for sale in the United States and this document is not an offer for sale of funds to US persons (as such term is used in Regulation S promulgated under the 1933 Act). Fund-specific information has been provided to illustrate First Sentier Investors’ expertise in the strategy. Differences between fund-specific constraints or fees and those of a similarly managed mandate would affect performance results.

About First Sentier Investors

References to ‘we’, ‘us’ or ‘our’ are references to First Sentier Investors, a global asset management business which is ultimately owned by Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, Inc (MUFG). Our investment team operates under the trading name of Stewart Investors which is part of the First Sentier Investors Group.

This material may not be copied or reproduced in whole or in part, and in any form or by any means circulated without the prior written consent of First Sentier Investors.

We communicate and conduct business through different legal entities in different locations. This material is communicated in:

  • Australia and New Zealand by First Sentier Investors (Australia) IM Ltd, authorised and regulated in Australia by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (AFSL 289017; ABN 89 114 194311)
  • the European Economic Area by First Sentier Investors (Ireland) Limited, authorised and regulated in Ireland by the Central Bank of Ireland (CBI ref no. C182306; Registered office: 70 Sir John Rogerson’s Quay, Dublin 2, Ireland; Company no. 629188).
  • Hong Kong by First Sentier Investors (Hong Kong) Limited and has not been reviewed by the Securities & Futures Commission in Hong Kong. First Sentier Investors and Stewart Investors are business names of First Sentier Investors (Hong Kong) Limited.
  • Singapore by First Sentier Investors (Singapore) (Company no. 196900420D) and this advertisement or material has not been reviewed by the Monetary Authority of Singapore. First Sentier Investors (registration number 53236800B) and Stewart Investors (registration number 53310114W) are business divisions of First Sentier Investors (Singapore).
  • Japan by First Sentier Investors (Japan) Limited, authorised and regulated by the Financial Service Agency (Director of Kanto Local Finance Bureau (Registered Financial Institutions) No.2611).
  • the United Kingdom by First Sentier Investors (UK) Funds Limited, authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA ref no. 143359;  Registered office: Finsbury Circus House, 15 Finsbury Circus, London EC2M 7EB; Company no. 2294743).
  • the United States by First Sentier Investors (US) LLC, authorised and regulated by the Securities Exchange Commission (RIA 801-93167).
  • other jurisdictions, where this document may lawfully be issued, by First Sentier Investors International IM Limited, authorised and regulated in the UK by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA ref no. 122512; Registered office: 23 St. Andrew Square, Edinburgh, EH2 1BB; Company no. SC079063).

To the extent permitted by law, MUFG and its subsidiaries are not liable for any loss or damage as a result of reliance on any statement or information contained in this document. Neither MUFG nor any of its subsidiaries guarantee the performance of any investment products referred to in this document or the repayment of capital. Any investments referred to are not deposits or other liabilities of MUFG or its subsidiaries, and are subject to investment risk, including loss of income and capital invested.

© First Sentier Investors Group