Tackling India’s Plastic Crisis: Startups Leading the Charge Towards Sustainability

Innovations backed by the Marico Innovation Foundation are spearheading the transformative change needed in the plastics value chain.

By Marico Innovation Foundation June 13, 2024 | 10:42 AM

Half of all manufactured plastics have been created in the last 20 years, according to National Geographic. With production skyrocketing from 2.3 million tons in 1950 to 448 million tons in 2015, the trajectory is set to double by 2050. In response to this mounting crisis, Earth Day’s theme, #PlanetvsPlastics, advocates for a 60% reduction in plastic production by 2040.

India, a burgeoning hub of innovation, houses over 117,254 startups, with the plastic waste management industry poised for a US$ 5.3 billion opportunity by FY25, growing at a CAGR of 17%, according to the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade. This positions startups in the waste management sector as critical innovators and stakeholders in the circular economy. Through its Scale-Up program, the Marico Innovation Foundation supports the groundbreaking work of innovative startups aiming to change the plastic waste scenario. 

Challenges in Plastic Waste Management

The primary challenge in India’s plastic waste management is the recycling infrastructure. The lack of efficient systems for collecting and transporting plastic waste from households, commercial establishments, and industries hinders recyclers’ access to necessary waste.

Innovative Startups Bridging the Gap

Startups driving innovation in plastic waste management are focusing on developing new materials, technologies, and business models that promote sustainability and reduce the environmental impact of plastics. A number of startups have emerged in the plastics alternatives sector, creating options like biodegradable plastics, plant-based plastics, and recycled plastics. New recycling technologies that can process a wider range of plastics, including mixed plastics, and produce higher quality recycled materials have also been developed. More and more startups are adopting circular economy models that focus on reducing waste and maximising the value of materials throughout their lifecycle, including through reuse, recycling, and remanufacturing.

Startups like Paperman are stepping up to the plate by revolutionising plastic collection methods. Paperman’s pioneering mobile application connects scrap dealers with households, fostering a collaborative waste management approach. The company has set up material recovery facilities that segregate waste and sell it to recyclers. They also reclaim landfills for the government through biomining and offer recycling efficiency advice. With a strong presence in seven states across South India, they have partnered with over 100 local bodies, establishing more than 25 plastic waste PFS networks and enabling the processing of over 1,000,000 tons of waste.

Sorting and Segregation Enhancements

(Image Credits: Ishitva Robotics Systems)

Effective plastic waste disposal bottlenecks are post-collection, sorting, and segregation. Ishitva Robotic Systems uses AI to manage larger volumes of waste, with their AI-powered sorting machinery processing approximately six tons per hour. Their technology is 50% more cost-effective than international counterparts and has processed over 8,000 tons to date. Meanwhile, another company, Bintix, facilitates door-to-door collection and sorting from individual households. They incentivise segregation at the source to ensure traceability from producer to recycler. Through concentrated efforts in seven major Indian cities, Bintix has expanded its waste collection to 28,792 households, preventing 2,928 tons of waste from reaching landfills and oceans.

Protecting Marine Ecosystems

Plastic waste wreaks havoc on marine ecosystems, with a staggering 14 million tons finding their way into the ocean each year, accounting for 80% of all marine debris. Lucro, an integrated waste management company, is making a significant difference. They manufacture flexible packaging products from post-consumer resin and ocean-bound waste, leading to substantial energy and water savings while keeping plastics within the circular economy. Over the course of a decade, Lucro has collected 28,500 tons of post-consumer waste, resulting in a remarkable 38,914 tons of CO2 emissions saved.

Recycling Innovations in Construction and Packaging

Many startups are turning existing plastic waste into sustainable packaging and construction materials. Angrius has developed patented technology to convert non-recyclable plastic and other waste into quality, damp-proof bricks, reducing construction costs by 20%. Ricron Panels creates sustainable green building products from low-value multi-layered packaging waste, offering cost-effective alternatives to traditional materials. Dharaksha Ecosolutions transforms stubble waste into effective, biodegradable packaging using mycelium (fungi), thereby addressing the issue of stubble burning and providing additional income to farmers.

These are just some instances of how India’s startup ecosystem offers hope, not just in combating plastic waste, but in reshaping our approach to sustainability and economic vitality. Marico Innovation Foundation is proud to be part of catalysing such innovations. 

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