We all love to see our used juice and milk cartons recycled into beautiful benches, pen stands, note books, and several other useful products. This motivates us to collect and deposit more.
But did you know that there’s an entire army of green soldiers working silently and diligently every day to ensure our cartons reach the recycling factory in good enough condition?
We catch up with Mrs. Lata Patil, the silent force behind the collection of cartons for the Go Green with Tetra Pak program, as she throws light on the challenges and triumphs of her journey.
Mrs. Lata madam with collected used Tetra Pak cartons.
“My journey with paper-based carton collection started way back in 2006 while I was working at Stree Mukti Sanghatana, an organization to uplift the ragpicker community founded by Mrs. Jyoti Mhapsekar. One day, Mr. Satyen, a representative from Tetra Pak, came down to educate us about Tetra Pak carton recycling and show us how they were turned into useful products like notebooks, furniture, roofing sheets, etc. He informed us that although over 4 metric tons of cartons reached Mumbai consumers, less than 1 metric ton was being collected for recycling, and the rest ended up on dumping grounds!
Tetra Pak packaging is very sturdy, and the entire carton can be recycled, so it should be collected and further sent for recycling, he explained.
At once, I felt immense passion for this material that had so many after-life uses and was simply being wasted. Seeing this, Jyoti Mhapsekar chose me to drive the program.
Initially, the big challenge was getting volumes. Our 2000 waste picker community would collect cartons from road waste, and they were absolutely dirty. Storage was another issue.
Gradually, I was given a tempo to start influencing scrap dealers to collect Tetra Pak cartons. Regularly, I started doing the rounds at every scrap dealer in Saki Naka, Govandi, and Deonar, around Mumbai, who would get bulk waste from hotels, airlines, etc.
I carried along a host of recycled products to show them and convince them of the great uses of recycling these cartons. They were convinced, but another hurdle presented itself: the monetary value of 1 kg of paper-based cartons was quite low at that time.
A big victory and many more
Imagine my excitement when I got a call from one Kabaddiwala at Saki Naka, who told me he had collected 4 tons of Tetra Pak carton waste for me in one go! He had received bulk waste from Air India, and he had kept all the cartons aside for me! WOW! That drove me to work harder, and our counts kept increasing.
Then something wonderful happened. In 2008, I joined Sampurna Earth and was in charge of the carton collection program there. In 2010, Go Green with Tetra Pak, an initiative by Tetra Pak, was launched in association with RUR Greenlife, Sahakari Bhandar, and Reliance Fresh Stores. Big retail stores started encouraging consumers to deposit cartons for collection, and RUR Greenlife began to spread awareness about this stream of waste. The number of cartons collected increased manifold. And the big advantage was that cartons from stores were in much better condition, as people had been educated to cut, clean, and flatten cartons and store them neatly. Our job was made easier!
OUR MODUS OPERANDI
Every month, we plan the route and collect Tetra Pak cartons from 44 Reliance Fresh and Sahakari Bhandar stores, which are public collection points, and over 100 spokespeople—corporate offices, schools, residential societies, churches, and more—across Mumbai. The cartons are baled, or tightly packed together, to make blocks for easy storage and transportation. Machines bale cartons into blocks of 100 kg, while manual baling against iron sheets makes blocks of 30–40 kg.
This is an extremely tricky process, which often seals the fate of our efforts. Even if one carton is filled with liquid, during baling it gets squeezed and all the juice spills out, rendering the entire bale wet. We didn’t realize this at this stage until much later, when it opened up at the factory. We transport baled cartons to the Palghar Deluxe Recycling Factory, a 180-kilometer journey. While the truck makes its trip at night, I catch an early train the next morning.
This is the moment of reckoning. After our 3 ½ hour journey, when we finally reach the factory, the bales are checked. If there is any moisture within, then the whole bale weighing 100 kg is a reject.
Then we have to transport it all back to Mumbai, dry out the cartons, and re-bale them, spending a lot of fuel and wasting time and energy.
So please deposit only empty, cut, cleaned, and flattened cartons. Even one unemptied carton can ruin everyone’s efforts.
I am thrilled with my career; the graph of the carton collection has grown immensely! Our Go Green program in Mumbai has recycled more than 45 lakh cartons, and there is so much enthusiasm to contribute cartons for this cause. Our van is always busy receiving calls for pick-ups, and even during the lockdown, people have been collecting and storing their Tetra Pak cartons!
From my experience, I would like to share with my readers that nearly everything can be recycled, and it’s the livelihood of millions. But it’s possible only if you dispose of properly segregated waste. NGOs, BMC, and social enterprises like RUR Greenlife have worked a lot to raise awareness that waste should not be mixed. Now it’s up to each one of us to be responsible and do our bit! Take responsibility and segregate your waste at source!
Mrs. Lata Patil
Go green with the Tetra Pak Program.