From trash to treasure: Starting Ventures project ecovio® plus fosters culture of recycling in West Bengal, India
Garbage can be found piled up in the streets and rural areas of India, or floating in rivers. Since this waste is a mixture of residual materials made of plastic, organic waste and electronic scrap, it cannot be separated or recycled. For the past few years, the Indian central government has been actively addressing this problem: It encourages the use of certified compostable plastics in applications such as packaging, organic waste source separation as well as recycling and circular economy initiatives. The local government of Kalyani, a community near Kolkata in West Bengal, is doing the same. The local population was not familiar with concepts such as organic waste source separation or the use of certified compostable waste bags. However, if certified compostable bioplastics are to be introduced in India on a larger scale, successful example projects will be necessary.
This is exactly the kind of evidence that Rowan Williams (Regional Market Development Manager Asia Pacific, BASF) wanted to deliver with the ecovio® plus pilot project. Launched in 2018, the project aims to show the positive contribution that the certified compostable bioplastic ecovio® can make for the environment, economy and population in the region. In the first stage of the project, local residents were recruited for the project and educated about the advantages of organic waste source separation. The organic waste they collected in their bags made of ecovio® was then converted into high-value compost in a pilot composting facility, operated by an Australian NGO, Stump Jump Foundation, on land provided by the municipality. The use of certified compostable packaging made of ecovio®, for example for food, instead of conventional plastic packaging should also reduce the proportion of non-recyclable waste in household garbage and thus improve the quality of the organic waste. In the final step, the processed compost and certified soil biodegradable mulch film, made of ecovio®, were applied in local farms. Independent tests conducted by the local Bidhan Chandra Krishi Viswa Vidyalaya (BCKV) University will now investigate the effect of the compost and the use of the certified soil biodegradable mulch film in agriculture.
The biodegradability of plastics such as ecovio® depends on a number of factors, including the composition of the microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi in the local Indian environment. “To study the impact on local farming of the source separated compost and the certified soil biodegradable mulch film, we initiated long-term experiments on local agricultural areas with our partner, BCKV University,” says project manager Williams. The tests were launched in parallel with the project in July 2018 and will be completed in 2020. “First results show that the combined use of mulch film made of ecovio® and the source separated compost appears to have yield-enhancing effects,” Williams adds.
Trials show the biodegradation process of the mulch films made of ecovio®.
Achieving sustainable success requires more than just the use of new technologies – behaviors also need to change. “Many people here are not aware that they are collecting valuable raw materials in their kitchen waste,” says Williams. One key aspect of the project is therefore raising awareness and changing peoples' views about the value of waste. “The fascinating thing about this project is that it is not merely about packaging or organic waste bags. Indeed, all parts of the project – from education about organic waste source separation to the properties of the products and the use in agriculture – need to mesh in order to create added value.”
Approximately 5,000 households are currently participating in the project, according to Williams. He and his team would like to raise this number in the coming years, and with the support of the city government, potentially even get the surrounding municipalities involved. Scaling up the project will also require finding new partners, which Williams plans to do as the next step.