Nanda Kasabe | Pune
Maharashtra dairy owners are considering PET bottles as an alternative to packaged milk,keeping in view the extended producer responsibilities (EPR) guidelines set by the environment ministry. Considering consumers’ inability to wash and store milk pouches and the high cost of collecting milk pouches post-usage, PET bottles seem to be an ideal substitute since it is reusable, resealable, easy to collect and the most-recycled plastic globally, industry people felt. The rate of recycling PET bottles is 80% in India, which is far higher in comparison to other packaging materials like tetrapack/brick cartons (05-30%) and glass bottles (45%), according to industry estimates.
The Maharashtra dairy industry produces 1.7 crore litres of milk every day, 70% of which is packed in plastic pouches, which means around 2.4 crore milk pouches (500ml) are used every day by consumers.
The exact collection and recycling estimates for plastic milk pouches post-usage are not available since it is handled by the unorganised sector. To curb pollution caused by packaging waste, the Maharashtra government implemented EPR guidelines and the dairy industry is expected to establish a mechanism to collect plastic milk pouches after usage.
“It is not economically viable to collect the pouches once they are dumped. On the other hand, packaging of milk in PET bottles will ensure higher collection and recycling rate since these bottles attract a higher recycling cost and is the key source of income for ragpickers. A move towards packaging milk in PET bottles is considerable since it will help in aligning the dairy industry with the government guidelines,” said Prakash Kutwal, founder & chairman, Kutwal Foods. He, however, added a rider stating that this was likely to raise the cost for consumers by Rs 4-6 per litre. The question was that they cannot expect the consumer to bear the additional cost, he said.
Vishnu Hinge, chairman, Pune District Milk Producers Federation, said while plastic pouches are recyclable, not everything which is recyclable actually gets recycled.
“The recycling rate of a packaging material also depends on the collection mechanism, value of a material post-usage and post-recycling, etc. It is not possible for the industry to establish a buyback/recycling mechanism for milk pouches. If we consider the alternatives, a shift towards PET bottles is desirable compared to other packaging materials like tetrapack or glass bottles,” he said.
While tetrapack also offers ease in transportation and attractive packaging opportunities like PET, tetrapack is not a consumer-, business- or environment-friendly option since it will increase the cost of milk by Rs 6-7/litre and also has very low-recycling rate and no reusability.
In India, currently, 12 lakh litres of milk is being packed in PET bottles every day. Also, dairy products like flavoured milk, chaas and lassi also get packed in PET bottles. Some of the biggest players that use PET bottles for fresh milk packaging are Maharashtra-based Pride of Cows, and Happy Milks.
Pramod Sonawane of Pride of Cows (Parag Dairy) said acceptability and demand were very strong for packaged milk bottles.
“ We are the pioneers when it comes to packaging milk in PET bottles in India. Immense popularity and positive consumer feedback are testament to our brand’s success. We chose to package our milk in PET bottles over pouches, since the transportation, storage and post-usage collection is much easier compared to pouches and other packaging materials,” he said.
The deadline for following EPR guidelines was February 15, which came at a time when the Lok Sabha election preparation had begun and no extension of the deadline was announced, thanks to the Model Code of Conduct.
With the Assembly polls due soon, the industry stakeholders expect a lenient view from the government.