Kwality Walls’ ice cream carton (700 ml family pack) contains instructions on how to clean and dispose of the packaging in order to facilitate the recycling process.
India is no stranger to the 3 Rs – reduce, reuse and recycle. However, we take more naturally to the first two steps than to the last one. It’s common to see a tin of butter cookies being reused to store sewing supplies, but it’s somewhat uncommon for an individual to take the initiative to recycle a particular product, or its packaging.
We have a system of workers termed as ‘raddiwalas’, or ‘kabadiwalas’. They collect metal, plastic and paper waste from households, and then drop them off at recycling centres for a profit. Some brands also offer customers an option to drop off the packaging at a showroom/recycling centre in order to opt for discounts or bargains.
However, it remains unclear if the culture will actually catch on in India. Will people take the initiative to segregate their waste and throw the right packaging in the recyclable and non-recyclable bins, or will it land up in the common dustbin?
Roshnee Desai, Founder and Creative Director at design agency LOCAL, points out that it is this very infrastructure that could act as a deterrent in the last mile step of recycling.
“You need to keep in mind that different materials are recycled differently. A paper ice cream carton will be recycled differently form a cardboard carton box.”
She calls it a good step, but points out that it’s unclear what the recycling process is, and the instructions are only about how to wash the packaging. The fact is that different materials need to be recycled differently and the instructions on the packaging don’t seem to go that far.
“It’s possible that people may be motivated to do it if the company offers an incentive to recycle the product packaging. For example, imagine if you’d get a coupon for a discount on your next ice cream purchase, then people may be more motivated to do it.”
“It would also help if the company listed recycling centres, where the packaging can be dropped off. Or better yet, if the company could pick it up from the homes of individuals to send it to be recycled.”
Vishal Nicholas, EVP and Head – Planning and Strategy, Mcgarrybowen India, points out that all Unilever brands are purpose-led now and meant to contribute to sustainable living. So, it’s a step in the right direction for both, the company and the society.
“Having said that, the larger purpose of Kwality Wall’s isn’t very clear, unlike, say, a Dove. So, it is a little unclear whether this move is in keeping with the overall purpose, or in keeping with Unilever’s sustainable living policy.”
“Ideally, such purpose-led initiatives add back even more to the brand when it ties in with the brand’s purpose because it reinforces to the consumer that the brand is walking the talk. That’s when a brand’s super customers, i.e., their most passionate loyalists get an additional reason to love the brand and spread the good word. Although small in number, super customers tend to be very vociferous and expressive about their love for the brand.”
Nicholas theorises that this may not have a mass impact yet as there is always a large gap between intent and action. He adds that waste segregation is only just catching up in India, and works only when there is enforcement at a community and civic level.
“We are seeing more red, green and white bags outside houses every morning, especially in metro cities, and the young generation seems more particular about segregation. So, there is hope, especially if it is easier to do, like segregation at home. Dropping off at a recycling centre, however, is still a tall order and only the eco-warriors would be up to that,” he concludes.