Although progress is being made to advance a circular economy, converting difficult-to-recycle flexible plastics and films, such as plastic bags, into new products has largely been untouched by recycling innovators. Dow, Circulate Capital and Lucro Plast-e-cycle are partnering to change that.
According to a recent study, only 9 percent of plastics are recycled globally; and an adequate supply of post-consumer recycled (PCR) materials remains a significant challenge for brands and the packaging industry. Yet, a bright spot in the global waste crisis is emerging as consumers’ demand for recycled packaging surges amidst new national regulations. And one recycler in India is at the center of this new business opportunity: Lucro Plast-e-cycle.
Tackling the waste challenge in India
Flexible film waste is prominent in India; nearly 26,000 tons of plastic waste are generated in the country daily, and flexible film waste constitutes approximately 45 percent of that. However, waste collectors in India rarely collect non-recyclable flexible film waste because it’s difficult to recycle and therefore perceived as lacking value. Additionally, most cities and towns in India do not have the means to manage waste. And, ultimately, inadequate integrated solid-waste management systems can lead to numerous health and ecological crises that have an outsized impact on India’s most vulnerable populations and increasingly all levels of society. The situation is more challenging because brands often need flexible plastic packaging and thin films to ensure essential products are affordable and accessible, especially to the world’s most vulnerable: communities that are often subject to higher environmental and health risks from issues such as pollution and unsafe drinking water.
To counteract these challenges, Dow has spent years investing in scientific and technological capabilities to convert hard-to-recycle resins, including flexible packaging and films, to PCR materials. In 2019, Dow began scouting waste-management enterprises in India for local PCR supply and flexible plastic capabilities to tackle the waste crisis. Across the country, Mumbai-based enterprise Lucro stood out amongst waste-management companies as the sole Indian recycler to process flexible plastics to make films and material solutions for packaging applications.
In April 2020, Dow introduced Lucro to Circulate Capital; and together they launched an investment partnership to scale Lucro’s operation and capabilities. At the same time, Dow brought in its material science experts and provided access to its innovation labs, Pack Studios, in Mumbai and Shanghai to test and develop PCR applications for Lucro’s collection stream.
Transforming materials and what’s possible for plastics
Prior to the collaboration, Lucro was largely producing low-end applications such as shopping and garbage bags. That’s why, in addition to funding the project, Dow launched a partnership with Lucro to develop and launch polyethylene (PE) film solutions using PCR plastics to enable advanced applications.
Lucro now uses Dow’s resins with its own to create new film structures; and through this engagement, Lucro can now produce a wide range of packaging solutions — including collation shrink films, a form of secondary packaging commonly used for bottles, cans and liquid cartons. Over the next few months, Dow will be working hand-in-hand with Lucro to target additional applications to add to its product portfolio — such as shipping sacks, e-commerce bags and non-food primary packaging.
Providing a blueprint for further transformative investments across the region
In just the first year of implementation, the results driven by Lucro demonstrate there is a promising, proven path forward toward a burgeoning circular economy in India. The partnership between Dow and Lucro is expected to divert 6,000 tons of waste from the environment while fostering new economic opportunities and a cleaner community. Reuters recently named the collaborative project to its shortlist in the “Circular Transition” category at its annual Responsible Business Awards.
To date, Dow and Lucro’s collaboration is generating commercial success for multiple brand owners that are using secondary packaging for their products; and at least ten brands are expected to commercialize the PCR-based film for secondary packaging for 2021. This will completely utilize the existing capacities and clear the road for further collection and recycling infrastructure.
Dow and Lucro have also jointly marketed PCR-based films with local brand owners in India — which furthers Dow’s sustainability goals to enable one million metric tons of plastic to be collected, reused or recycled through its direct actions and partnerships by 2030. What’s more, this work helps converters and brands meet their own corporate sustainability goals, thereby supporting the entire packaging industry on the path to a circular economy.
Solutions developed in India — such as Dow and Lucro’s partnership — are poised to cause a ripple effect across the region. It is evident that, with the right support, inventive companies are ready, and willing, to drive significant environmental and social impact both in the country and as a scalable circular model for the world.