Banyan Nation, a vertically integrated plastic recycling company based in Hyderabad, recently announced that it has produced over 300 million FMCG bottles from recycled plastic in the past year for major customers such as Hindustan Unilever, Shell, HPCL and Reckitt.
In a country where plastic recycling is still largely confined to a fragmented informal sector and where tons of waste ends up in landfills, Banyan Nation has designed a unique system that allows them to collect plastic waste in large quantities and produce superior quality recycled polyolefin plastics (PE and PP). This is used in premium packaging applications such as shampoo, detergent and lotion bottles. The company sources raw plastic waste using its proprietary technology platform that integrates thousands of informal sector workers into its supply chain.
After recycling its waste using its proprietary cleaning and decontamination technology, the company generates near-virgin grade recycled resins that are used in consumer packaging applications. Not only do Banyan Nation’s recycled plastics meet United States (US) and European Union (EU) packaging and plastics safety standards, they also ensure that the raw materials they source come from a 100% traceable supply chain.
“Banyan can process more than 1,000-1,200 tons of plastic waste per month at its recycling plant in Hyderabad. We source plastic waste from cities across the country. Although historically we have had a stronger presence in the South, we are significantly expanding our purchases to the North, West and East,” said co-founder Mani Vajipey, speaking to The best India.
It was at Columbia Business School that Mani, who was pursuing an MBA (2011 to 2013), came up with the idea for Banyan Nation. An electrical engineer by training, he also shared an undying passion for the environment and understood the huge problem of unrecycled plastic waste in India. With the exception of water bottles, he knew that most plastic waste in India was recycled. The concept of recycling was still in its infancy and relegated to the informal sector.
So, in 2013, he founded Banyan Nation to address this growing problem. Under the mentorship of Ron Gonen, a pioneer in waste management, he incubated Banyan Nation at Columbia. After a series of phone calls, he was soon joined by his friend and University of Delaware classmate Raj Madangopal. At the time, Raj was working for a startup in Seattle, but like Mani, he had a strong desire to come home and make a real difference.
As part of the university’s incubator program, Mani and Raj traveled to Hyderabad and Bengaluru to do research. For their research, they spoke to a host of stakeholders ranging from managers of large multinational companies and municipal city commissioners to private waste management contractors, informal scrap pickers, scavengers and kabadiwalas.
After conducting extensive market research for three months, visiting various locations and townships in cities like Hyderabad, and interacting with direct stakeholders, what the two realized was that India was in desperate need of a company that could streamline the entire plastic waste management process. from collection to transportation and recycling.
Upon their return to the United States, they also spent an additional three months visiting a multitude of facilities in New York and the Bay Area to understand the waste management process. After officially leaving their respective high-paying jobs (Mani was employed at Qualcomm while doing his MBA) and returning to India, the duo officially incorporated their company in July 2013.
Integration of informal workers
How does the Banyan Nation integrate these informal workers into the supply chain and ensure that the raw materials they use come from a 100% traceable supply chain?
“Armed with Banyan’s Mappr app, Banyan’s field team begins by geolocating and collecting vital data on all scrap metal dealers in a city: what materials they collect, how much they collect and how many trades. Once we have identified a set of these scrap metal dealers that we can work with, the Banyan team trains them on our quality and social compliance expectations such as no child laborers, respect for personal security, fair payment of wages, etc.). They are then integrated into Banyan’s Tradr platform where we record all transactions and track their progress over time and space through uploaded photos and updates in the mobile app,” says Rashi Agrawal, Director business development, sales and compliance at Banyan Nation.
This way they ensure that every kilo that enters the Banyan facility is traceable back to its source. By training and onboarding these informal scrap traders, they can integrate them into formal supply chains. “Our team on the ground regularly ensures that they meet all the sustainability requirements of Banyan’s supply chain and its customers,” she adds.
Production of premium recycled polyolefin plastics
Banyan’s proprietary cleaning and decontamination technology is the result of years of research and development on Indian waste streams.
“We first understood the specific challenges of the Indian waste stream – such as inks printed on packaging, labels, adhesives, contaminations from mixed products, etc. – and developed a washing process that eliminates these contaminants without degrading the basic properties of the polymer.We have a series of quality checks at every stage of the process which ensures that the final product meets the safety standards of our customers who are global brands,” says Rashi.
Speaking to Forbes India in an interview last month, Mani said, “We are developing our plastic washing technology to develop premium recycled plastics into injection, blow molding and extrusion grade materials for applications in various industries. . Our goal is to achieve scale and profitability while staying true to our core mission of solving the threat of plastic pollution and creating sustainable environmental and social impact.
As noted above, last year over 300 million bottles for FMCG companies were produced from recycled plastic. But plans are underway to increase their capacity.
“We will be at 1 billion plastic bottles recycled per year by the end of 2023. We plan to install additional capacity and take advantage of the opportunities available to us in many other industries where plastics are a key raw material,” Rashi said, speaking to The Best India. Their current installed capacity barely covers 1% of the expected demand for recycled plastics in 2025.
In other words, the scale of the problem is enormous. However, Banyan Nation believes that greater collaboration with policymakers, large corporations, startups and customers can enable them to grow faster and drive greater systemic change in the management of plastics in India.
For their efforts, the company has received a host of awards ranging from Global Technology Pioneers (2021) from the World Economic Forum (WEF) to Intel DST Award Innovations 2018 for Digital India and Millennium Alliance Grant (2016).
Looking ahead, Rashi believes plastic waste management is finally making its way into the consciousness of Indian consumers. However, she also has some recommendations.
Consumers should choose brands that use recycled plastics responsibly and are committed to minimizing the use of virgin plastics in their packaging.
“It only takes a few seconds to read the label and choose a product that uses recycled packaging. Consumers can also support our scrap dealers and waste management staff by properly separating waste, ensuring that anything hazardous, such as medical or battery waste or wet waste, is not mixed with recyclable waste. Having said that, I think the Indian government is already a step ahead in coming up with a framework for managing plastic waste through Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR Guidelines). We just need more support from the government for the development of the recycling ecosystem in India,” she concludes.
(Editing by Yoshita Rao)