Multi Layered Plastic Recycling: opportunities and challenges

Multi layered plastics (MLP) such as potato wafer packet, chocolate wrapper, wrappers for ready to eat foods and pharma products are criticised for their lack of recyclability, leading to littering of our cities and oceans. However, MLPs remain the cheapest and most viable option for packaging of food and pharma products and it may not be possible to completely replace them atleast in the near term. In this blog, we examine entrepreneurial opportunities available in MLP waste management and challenges faced by these businesses.

How big is the MLP waste problem?

India consumes close to 150001 tonnes of plastics per day, of which only 60% is recycled. Packaging plastics (MLPs and single use plastics such as light weight plastic bags, coffee cups, disposable utensils), contribute to majority of the non-recycled plastics. MLPs cannot be recycled economically, as these are made of two or more layers of plastics and separating the layers is not cost effective.

MLP waste can be broadly divided into two categories: industrial waste and post use waste. Industrial waste refers to the waste generated in the flexible packaging /converting units, this waste is relatively clean and can be converted into products such as plastic ropes/bags or fuel. Post use waste comprises waste generated from households and other consumption centres such as malls, commercial establishments. Such MLPs are contaminated and have high moisture content as they are mixed with the organic waste; it is this waste, which mostly finds its way to the landfill.

Is there a shortage of MLP waste processing capacity?

MLP waste can typically be converted into power or fuel, through a number of processes (see picture 1). Additionally, it can also be used a filler for laying roads.

Picture 1: Laminate waste treatment options
wastetreatment
Among above mentioned methods, co processing in cement plants has taken off to an extent. Currently around 542 cement plants all over the country have made investments in co processing facilities that allows them to use alternate fuel in the kiln. As per Cement Manufacturers Association (CMA), cement plants currently have a Thermal Substitution Rate (TSR) of 4%, indicating that they meet 4 per cent of their fuel requirements from alternate fuels including plastic waste. Cement industry has proposed to increase their TSR to 25% by 2025, which will allow them to consume up to 12 million tonnes of plastic waste. While cement plants can handle contaminated waste, it has to be moisture free as wet waste is difficult to process.

Waste To Energy (WTE) plants burn unsegregated waste to produce power. Currently there are around 7 operational WTE plant, 403 under different stages of construction. WTE plants are ideally meant for processing dry waste, as wet waste (largely organic in nature) has lower calorific value and therefore is ineffective. However, given the lack of availability of segregated waste, they use mixed waste. While these plants have faced issues related to their compliance with pollution control norms, they are still preferred by the municipalities around the country as they can handle large amounts of unsegregated waste.

Pyrolysis refers to the process of converting plastic to oil, which can be used as a fuel. This process also needs clean /moisture free waste. Pyrolysis is yet to take off, largely to due unavailability of clean waste and risks related to the pollution compliance of such units. However, these plans can work well in industrial estates where availability of 2-3 tonnes of clean waste per day is assured.

Plastic has been used to build roads in Chennai, Indore, Pune and Meghalaya. The challenges again are lack of availability of required amount of clean plastic waste.

As such, the key issue that hampers laminate waste management is lack of availability of clean laminates that are fit to be processed and not shortage of waste processing facilities as such. The existing capacity of the cement and waste to energy facilities is enough to meet the needs of the industry.

Where are the opportunities for new businesses?

On the one hand, there is huge amount of MLP and plastic waste which needs recycling and on the other hand waste treatment providers such as cement kilns, WTE and pyrolysis plants don’t get desired quality of waste. Thus, there is a large opportunity to set up businesses that can incentivise households to segregate dry and wet waste, collect the segregated waste and channelize it to recyclers. Given the potential opportunity, a number of companies (see Table 1) have started aggregating household waste and supplying it to recyclers.

Table 1: Waste Management companies
CompanyLocationRemarks
Lets recycleAhmedabadWaste management, waste handling and reporting services for corporates, also owns recycling facilities, funded by impact investors such as Aavishkaar and Asha impact
Waste venturesHyderabadWaste collection, segregation and channelization , has been funded by Vilcap investments
Karo SambhavGurugram, HaryanaE waste PRO, funded by IFC, clients includes HP, Apple Del and Xiaomi
GEM enviroDelhiPlastic waste PRO, counts Bislery, Pepsi, Coco Cola among its clients
Raddi ConnectMumbaiWaste collection and channelization
Thekabadiwala.comBhopalDoorstep waste collection and channelizing the waste,  recently raised angel funding of Rs. 3 crores
Saahas zero wasteBangaloreWaste management, EPR and consulting services, has raised funds from India Angels network
Rudra Environmental SolutionsPuneCollects plastic waste and converts it to fuel in their own pyrolysis plant. Has been acquired by Blue Planet environmental solutions Pte limited, Singapore
Source: FineTrain research

Further, changing regulatory landscape in plastic waste management sector has boosted the viability of this sector. The regulations on plastic waste management are evolving and EPR (extended producer responsibility) was introduced in 2016. EPR makes producers, importers and brand owners responsible for processing of end of life plastic waste generated by their products. These companies can also take services of a Producer Responsibility Organisation (PRO) to manage their waste. Although, EPR for plastic waste is still in its early days, some FMCG companies have started warming up to this idea. For example, Indian Pollution Control Association (IPCA), a Delhi based PRO is implementing a project called “We Care” on behalf of FMCG companies such as PepsiCo , Nestle, Dabur and other to collect MLPS and channelize them to the recyclers. Recognition and acceptance of a PRO in plastic waste management provides a sustainable source of revenue for waste management companies and therefore makes their operations more viable.

Regulation is also slowly making an impact on waste segregation mindset of Indians. For example, in Mumbai and /Bangalore in situ (on site) composting is mandatory for bulk generators who generate more than 100 kg of waste every day as the municipality does not collect wet waste from such bulk generators.

Increasing awareness about consequences of informal recycling on the health of workers and environment is also bringing about a change in the mindset of people to own up their waste and sell it only to authorised recyclers. This in turn is likely to lead to an increase in demand for PROs in the long term.

What are the key challenges?

While the opportunity is large, the waste management companies face challenges related to lack of adequate clean waste and funding.

  1. Competition from informal sector: Almost all companies in formal waste recycling sector including e waste, bio-waste and plastic waste do not get adequate waste. For example more than 90 per cent of4 e waste is handled by informal sector and 50 per cent5of plastic recycling is done by informal sector, resulting in less than adequate availability of waste to the formal recyclers. The informal sector is able to offer higher prices for the waste vis a vis formal recyclers as they their processing costs are lower due to lower operational/manpower costs/capex costs. For example, a formal plastic recycling units needs to invest at at-least Rs. 1 cr in a recycling unit including the processing machinery and pollution control equipment for treating dust and waste water. However, the cost for informal sector are negligible as most of the work is done manually, and without any compliance to pollution control.
  2. Access to funding: The waste related business are working capital intensive, as they need to pay for the waste upfront, while they get paid only after sizable quantity of each type waste is collected, sorted and sent to the recycler. Additionally, they need large godown for waste storage and employ a number of people in sorting the waste. Further, they require funds for conducting awareness campaigns and marketing. Since these businesses do not have large physical assets, traditional channels such as bank are not able to meet their requirements. Similarly, such businesses also find it difficult to attract equity capital, as it is difficult to scale up operations across geographies.
    However, emergence of impact investors and green funds has improved the funding prospects of these businesses. As can be seen in the Table 1, a number of investors including IFC, Aavishkaar, Asha impact and angle investors have invested in waste related businesses.

How can we help?

We are an advisory firm for small and medium enterprises in green industries. We can help you assess viability of your proposed plastic waste related venture including availability of waste, technology selection and market for recycled products. If you already have a waste related business, we can support you in raising capital for your growth plans and also in acquiring green businesses.

Reach us @

Write to us: bchhatre@finetrain.com , admin@finetrain.com
Call us: 800 888 4932

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Green products: How to set up Compostable Plastic bags business?

Compostable plastic bags are plastic bags that decompose into natural components such as carbon, water and biomass upon their contact with soil. As per DS6400, the most widely recognised international standard for compostable plastics, such plastics should completely disintegrate into natural components within 180 days in composting environment.

India generates huge amount of plastic waste (nearly 15,000 tonnes per day). It is estimated that only around 60 per cent of this waste is recycled and remaining gets dumped in the landfills and other places. Prominent among non-recyclable plastics are poly bags made from Polyethylene (PE), which can take up to 100 years to disintegrate.

Plastic bags have been completely banned in Maharashtra[1] (except for milk packets and some specific applications). Further, 17 States and Union Territories in the country have imposed partial ban on these bags with restriction on the thickness of the bags to minimum 50 microns. Increasing awareness about environmentally sustainable products along with restrictions on the usage of plastic bags have improved the prospects of compostable bags.

What are compostable Plastics?

Compostable plastics can be made out of bio based or petroleum based compounds (Resins) as shown below.

Figure1: Types of compostable plastics

Currently, the market for compostable resins is small, at around 1 million tonnes[2] (less than 0.5% of world’s annual plastic consumption of 320 million tonnes). These resins are patented by large multinationals such as BASF, NOVAMONT and have to be purchased from them or their dealers, thus resulting in higher price and limited availability. However, their consumption is predicted to grow at a CAGR of 20% over the next five years[3], and with the rise in demand, the availability of such plastics is likely to increase and their prices would become competitive.

How do compostable bags compare with conventional bags?

Compostable resins’ tensile strength, printability and weight bearing capacities are similar to that of conventional polymers such as Polyethylene (PE). In fact, in some specific applications, compostable resin may offer higher density and tensile strength as compared to  PE, thus resulting in requirement of less tonnage of the resin vis-à-vis PE.

However, currently, the compostable plastic resin is 2-3 times costlier than the conventional resins. Further, the costs of processing these resins into products such as bags are also higher due to smaller size of the processing capacities. As a result, these bags are 3 times as costly as conventional bags. For example, a medium size compostable garbage bags is currently priced at Rs. 220 (for a pack of 30 bags) as compared to a price of Rs. 70-80 for similar conventional bags.

What are the international and domestic standards for compostable Plastics?

There are a number of standards for compostable plastics including ASM D6400 (USA) and EN 13432 (Europe) and ISO 17088.

An Indian manufacturer of compostable plastic bags has to obtain a certification from Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) for selling compostable bags and related products. The certification process requires the product to be tested in a government authorised lab to check its compliance to ISO 17088.

Table 1. International Standards for compostable bags
S.NoStandardization BodyStandard
1ASTM – American Society for Testing and MaterialsASTM D6400
2European StandardsEN 13432, EN 14995
3ISO – International Organization for StandardizationISO 17088

Is manufacturing compostable bags complex?

No, the manufacturing is very simple and is a two-step process; first the resin is processed into a film through a blown film manufacturing machine, the film is then cut, printed and sliced as per the bag sizes. Currently most Indian manufacturers use conventional LDPE blown film machinery for sheet extrusion. The resin is either directly imported from the manufacturers (list of bioplastic resin manufacturers is available in Table.2), or their dealers.

Table 2. Bio Resin manufacturers
S.NoCompanyCountry
1BASFGermany
2Bio-FedGermany
3CarbioliceFrance
4FKuR KunststofGermany
5NatureWorksNetherland
6NovamontItaly

Is there a market for compostable bags?

The demand for compostable bags is rising driven by growing concern about the environment and changing regulatory landscape. The waste management regulations in India are getting more stringent about handling and disposal of all types of waste including plastic. Therefore, specific segment of the market such as trash bags, bags for nurseries are witnessing a lot of interest from supermarkets, retail chains etc.

Given the demand, a number of new manufacturers have entered the market in past two years. The number of CBCB registered manufacturers of compostable bags has increased to 12 from just 2/3 a couple of years back ( a list of CPCB approved vendors is available here ).

The usage of other biodegradable/environmentally sustainable products is also increasing. Recently McDonald’s India has proposed to replace its plastic cutlery with a combination of wooden and biodegradable plastic cutlery ( available in this link: McDonald’s India kicks out plastics )

How much capital is required and what will be the profitability?

The capital requirements would depend on the machinery and the scale of operations. For example, a blown film machine of a capacity of 15-20 tonnes a month available for around Rs. 30 lakhs. However a European machinery (smallest capacity of 400 kg per hour) specifically made to handle bioplastics can cost more than Rs. 3 crores.

The minimum capital requirement including working capital is likely to be over Rs. 60 lakhs. The overall profitability and return on investment would be contingent on the manufacturer’s ability to secure regular orders and keep processing costs under control.

What are the key challenges?

  • Most states do not have a policy on regulation of usage of compostable plastic bags currently. The guidelines on allowing such bags in retail market would be critical for the growth of the industry.
  • The processing machinery is designed for conventional plastic, which can withstand higher temperature as compared to compostable plastics. Therefore getting the right product requires a number of trials.
  • The certification process for compostable bags is time consuming and can take up to 6-8 months.

[1] As per the circular, dated 10th July 2018 of Maharashtra Environment department, the compostable plastic bags are allowed for horticulture, agriculture, and handling of solid waste.
[2] Source: Global production of bioplastics, a publication by European bioplastics
[3] Source: European-bioplastics.org

How can we help?

We can help you start a compostable plastic bags manufacturing unit through a number of services including viability assessment, market landscaping and technical consultation

Reach us @

Write to us: bchhatre@finetrain.com , admin@finetrain.com
Call us: 800 888 4932

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