THE CHAMP BEHIND THE SCENES!
We all love to see our used juice/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 a good enough condition.
We catch up with Mrs Lata Patil, the silent force behind the collection of cartons of the Go Green with Tetra Pak program, as she throws light on the challenges and triumphs of her journey.
“My journey with paper-based carton collection started way back in2006 while I was working in 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 showed us how they were turned into useful products like notebooks, furniture , roofing sheets etc. He informed us that although over 4 metric ton of cartons reached Mumbai consumers, less than 1 metric ton was being collected for recycling and the rest ended up in 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 and 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 cartons waste for me at 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 was launched. Big retail stores started encouraging consumers to deposit cartons for collection, and RUR Greenlife began to spread awareness about this stream of waste. Numbers of cartons collected increased manifold. And the big advantage was that cartons from stores were in a 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 plus spokes- 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 don’t realize this at this stage, only much later when its opened up at the factory. We transport baled cartons to Palghar Deluxe Recycling factory, a 180 km 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 hr 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 , and dry out the cartons and re-bale them, spending a lot of fuel, discounting the time and energy.
So please , please deposit only emptied – cut, cleaned and flattened cartons… even one unemptied carton can ruin everyone’s efforts.
I am thrilled with my career – the graph of 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 ever 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 give 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 Waste Aggregator, Go Green with Tetra Pak Program.