Manufacturers of small packaged fruit juices and dairy products such as Parle Agro, Dabur and Mother Dairy are resorting to imported paper straws despite higher costs to continue selling their products as the deadline for implementing the ban on plastic straws from July 1 draws closer.
The manufacturers, however, want the government to extend the implementation date of the ban till proper infrastructure for producing paper straws locally is developed, saying importing such straws is not economically viable.
"There is no infrastructure at present in India to be able to produce the quantum of straws required for the industry. We have started importing paper straws to ensure the new rules are met by its deadline. However, importing is not a sustainable option," Parle Agro CEO Schauna Chauhan said. She further said, "The percentage increase in the cost for importing polylactic acid (PLA) and paper straws goes up by 259 per cent and 278 per cent respectively. The economics just does not match up for a Rs 10 product."
The company sells popular fruit juices like Frooti and Appy and dairy beverage Smoodh in small packs that use plastic straws. Seeking a six-month extension to help straw manufacturers in India build adequate capacity to manufacture and supply biodegradable straws to beverage companies, Chauhan said, "We have already begun work on developing many local MSMEs to be able to cater to our volume of biodegradable straws."
"This will also help the beverage industry make the transition effectively without facing the negative impact of heavy import cost, heavy logistics cost and supply chain disruptions," she added. Expressing similar sentiments, Dabur India Ltd Executive Director-Operations Shahrukh Khan said, "While some state regulators have permitted use of biodegradable plastic straws and paper straws, the infrastructure for producing these straws at scale is non-existent in India today. So, we would urge the government to extend the implementation date of the ban till proper infrastructure for producing paper straws locally is developed.
He said Dabur India has also imported paper straws in order to comply with the new regulations. "As of now, we would be able to cover only 10-15 per cent of our requirement with the imported paper straws as there is a huge global demand-supply gap. We are also alongside working on finding local solutions and alternates to replace the existing plastic straws," Khan said.
However, he said these developments are still work in progress, and it would take around 18 months for adequate capacity to be set up in the country. He argued that the integrated plastic straws that come as part of juice and milk-based drink packs do not contribute much to plastic pollution as they are part of the recycling and processing chain already put in place by brand owners and companies.
"In fact, independent surveys have pointed out that plastic straws account for less than 0.1 per cent of total plastic consumption," Khan added. Agreeing with him, Chauhan said the industry recycles 80 per cent of the integrated straws.
Commenting on the company's preparations, Mother Dairy Fruit & Vegetable Pvt Ltd Managing Director Manish Bandlish said, "We would be importing these paper straws. These are four times more expensive vis-a-vis the existing plastic straws. However, as of now, we would be absorbing the increased cost and are not planning to increase the MRP of our associated products." Stressing that Mother Dairy has been working on limiting plastic usage for quite some time, he said, "For instance, there are no plastic spoons and loose straws in our system for the past 3 years. Likewise, we will soon be replacing the currently available straws in our carton packs with paper straws, which is currently under the implementation phase."
In view of the ban on plastic straws, packaging major UFlex is gearing up to locally produce U-shaped paper straws at its packaging plant at Sanand in Gujarat. "The manufacturing facility will begin operations in a phase wise manner to take on the huge demand by the beverage industry. Our investment in the first phase is about Rs 100 crore and the total capacity of the facility, which should be up and running by year end (December 2022 hopefully) is 6 billion straws, which can cater to majority of domestic market's requirement," UFlex President and CEO of Aseptic Liquid Packaging Business Ashwani Sharma said.
The company's aim is to start the production and manufacture about 1.2 billion straws a month by August-September 2022. The straws will be food grade, moisture-resistant and made from environmentally sustainably sourced papers, which are 100 per cent recyclable, he added.
The U-shaped paper straws will be available in 145 mm and 165 mm sizes and be attached to and utilised for portion packs for juices and other beverages, Sharma said, adding "in the wake of impending ban on single use plastic, we are ready to change the dynamics of the industry." Leading dairy cooperative Amul has already written to the environment ministry earlier this month seeking postponement of the ban on plastic straws by one year due to lack of adequate availability of paper straws in the domestic as well as international markets.
The government's ban on single-use plastics, including plastic straw, is going to be effective from July 1, 2022. Earlier, Parle Agro too had urged the government to extend the deadline to implement the ban on plastic straws by six months.