Almost a hundred years ago, billiards, a game played with a cue stick, was so popular in the United States that it increased the demand for natural ivory used to make the balls. To prevent the slaughter of animals, a New York Billiards company issued a public reward of $10,000 for inventing a viable replacement for the ivory.
An amateur inventor named John Wesley Hyatt came up with an alternative that would revolutionise consumption habits around the world. He invented celluloid, a polymer made from cellulose or in other words plastic. Later, when the world discovered that plastic was a cheaper and more durable alternative to natural materials, humanity welcomed it in their homes with open arms.
Ironically, though the invention of plastic took place to protect animals, its unchecked consumption would go on to become a threat for the entire planet and spell doom for all species.
World’s annual consumption of plastics stands at 300 million tonnes, and India contributes around 16.5 million tonnes according to a 2018 report in Down to Earth that cites PlastIndia Foundation. With tonnes of plastic consumed annually, the world is likely to drown in the non-biodegradable material considering that it takes thousands of years to decompose.
In a gloomy situation like this, repurposing plastics may not be a permanent solution, but it can bring relief to the environment and the marine species.
Alarmed by the mounting plastic crisis, two Delhiites came together and started a scrap management company that aims to promote the collection and recycling of plastics.
Founded by Dinesh Parikh and Sachin Sharma, GEM Enviro Management Pvt Ltd is one of the few Producer Responsibility Organisations (PRO) registered with the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).
A PRO is a company that ensures that the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) targets of all Plastic producers, Importers and Brand Owners (PIBO) are met. The PROs collect and process waste on behalf of PIBO.
The duo came in contact when they were working with Ganesha Ecosphere Limited, one of India’s largest PET recycling companies. While working there, they learnt about the country’s unorganised sector of waste management. They saw how companies that discarded polyethene terephthalate (PET) items had very little knowledge about their disposal.
Speaking to The Better India (TBI), Sachin, an alumnus of IIM-Calcutta says,
India discards tonnes of recyclable plastic every day, and yet we have not been able to figure out the process to scientifically manage waste. On the one hand, experts are worried about overflowing landfills, and on the other hand, the recycling units require PET items. Our company aims to eliminate both problems.
In 2013, Dinesh and Sachin launched the company with their funds.
After researching for months, we had our comprehensive plan of collecting both pre-consumer and post-consumer packaging scrap. All we needed was an equally passionate team who could do justice to the work, says Dinesh.
One of the biggest hurdles the duo faced was in the hiring process. Many applicants were reluctant to work in direct collaboration with the waste pickers and even about handling waste daily. So, the company looped in experts, NGOs, and other informal waste pickers not working with the Municipal Corporations.
After several meetings with Coca-Cola for almost a year, the giant soft drink manufacturer became their first client. Bisleri, PepsiCo, Google and others also got on board. Through their client companies, GEM prevents close to 500 tonnes from entering the landfill per month by processing it.
GEM’s services are-pan India. The company not only collects the plastic items but also recycles them into consumer products like bags, t-shirts, furniture, soft-toys, etc. With a staff strength of about 100, GEM has tied up with Ganesha Ecosphere for PET recycling and marketing and branding of the recycled yarn.
Ganesha Ecosphere cuts down the plastic and recycles it into a certain fibre.
GEM uses this fibre to make sustainable products that are sold under their ‘Being Responsible’ campaign, “All our materials are made from recycled, sustainable or ethically sourced materials. We believe that every corporate house must take green steps no matter how small. Every little step will help to save the environment in the long run,” says Sachin.
After bringing in giant companies for the responsible disposal of waste, GEM launched the ‘Reverse Vending Machine’ project in 2013 to rope in the people.
A total of 50 collection centres have been installed in 15 states, “The RVMs are installed in residential societies, malls and other public areas to spread awareness among people. Often, people want to contribute towards the environment but don’t know how to and here’s where our machines come in. It will also prevent littering and illegal recycling of bottles,” says Sachin.
The machines, which are only for deposition of PET bottles can collect around 500 PET bottles per day and one machine costs up to 5 lakhs. People can discard their bottles in the vending machine and earn one rupee or other freebies and discounts.
In terms of impact, the company has so far processed one lakh tonnes of plastic waste and saved 1.40 lakh carbon dioxide emissions by transforming plastic waste.
Besides the environmental impact, GEM has also been instrumental in improving the lives of rag pickers. The channelised format of collecting plastic waste that GEM follows has increased the income of rag pickers by 25 per cent, says Sachin. In addition to that, the rag pickers are also given healthcare benefits. So far, around 3,000 rag pickers have been associated with the waste management company.
If big brands like PepsiCo and Coca-Cola are waging war against plastic by being responsible for waste disposal methods, then managing waste by other Indian companies should not be impossible. Companies like GEM have even made it easy for corporate houses by sharing a significant degree of responsibility for the environmental impacts of their products.
If you wish to get in touch with GEM, you can contact them here.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)