Trash to cash
Students from over 1,200 municipal schools in Mumbai do not litter packets after finishing their favourite flavoured milk, which they receive under the school feeding programme.
They neatly fold the cartons and drop them in a bin in the campus. A paper mill in Gujarat sends its truck every day to collect the waste. In return, it offers the school free desks and benches made from the cartons.
“We offer the gift for every 4,500 used milk cartons we receive,” said Tushar Shah, director of the recycling unit of Daman Ganga Board Mills at Vapi, 160 km from Mumbai. A leading paper products company in India, Daman Ganga entered the recycling business in 2004. “The idea is to solve the growing problem of mixed waste in the country while making business sense,” Shah said.
The aseptic cartons used for packaging in the food and beverage industry are made of tightly compressed layers of paper, polyethylene and aluminium foil. The design makes it difficult to recover the packaging materials for recycling and most cartons end up in landfills, polluting the environment. Daman Ganga is trying to divert this waste. It uses advanced technology to separate the packaging materials and reprocess them into products ranging from tissue paper and note books to plywood and roofing sheets.
To maintain a continuous supply of the waste, the plant has tied up with several non-profits in Delhi, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Bengaluru, Pune and Chandigarh. “We collect used cartons from schools, BPOs and several corporate offices in the city and send them to Daman Ganga,” said Jyoti Mhapsekar of Stree Mukti Sangathan, a non-profit in Mumbai. The company bears the transportation cost and pays the non-profits Rs 5 per kg of cartons.
Of late, several ragpickers in Mumbai and Gujarat have also tied up with Daman Ganga. Instead of dumping, they send the cartons to the recycling plant.
At the factory the layers of the cartons are separated by hydro-pulping. Water is added to cartons and the mixture is crushed like in a blender. This removes highgrade pulp from polyethylene and aluminium. The recycled pulp is then turned into notebooks, plywood, unbleached toilet paper and paper bags. Polyethylene and aluminium are dried in the sun, shredded and recycled into roofing sheets under high temperature and pressure.
“Our roofing sheets are in demand, particularly for cattle sheds,” said Shah. Made of plastic and aluminium, they are unbreakable, durable and weatherproof, he said. But Daman Ganga’s recycling plant operates at 10 per cent of its capacity due to raw material shortage and produces 8,000 roofing sheets a month.
Keeping in mind the amount of waste generated in the country, the company installed a unit that can recycle over 100 tonnes of used cartons a day. “But we hardly receive 10 tonnes a day,” said Shah. To widen the waste collection network Daman Ganga has installed bins outside some corporate offices and trained their staff to throw used cartons in marked bins. The results are not very encouraging, Shah said.
Daman Ganga still manages to make a profit, said Shah refusing to divulge investment and financial details. “We save on raw material used and electricity and water bills,” he said. To make a tonne of virgin paper, a plant consumes 2,000-2,500 kW electricity and 50,000 litres of water. But recycled paper requires a quarter of the electricity and 10,000 litres of water. Besides, each tonne of recycled paper saves 17 million trees.
Shah’s recycling endeavour is not confined to cartons. Daman Ganga is a zero-discharge unit. It uses recycled effluents and runoff rainwater from adjacent fields. The runoff water is diverted through natural drains to the plant and then stored following preliminary treatment. It is used throughout the year. To minimize the pressure on the groundwater, Daman Ganga has also taken up rainwater harvesting.