Meet Banyan Nation. This recycling start-up, based in Hyderabad, India, is one of the 25 nominees of the Postcode Lottery Green Challenge 2018. As well as helping brands such as L'Oréal and Tata Motors reuse their plastic waste, the company has also established a data intelligence platform to track cities’ waste flow. Recognised by the World Economic Forum in 2018, Banyan Nation is currently building a second processing plant in India, opening in 2019, as well as the country’s first plastic testing facility. We spoke with co-founders Raj Madangopal and Mani Vajipey about how they’re changing the way brands think about recycled plastic in India.

"The beauty of plastic is its versatility. That unfortunately has become not a boon but a bane to India" 

Please introduce Banyan Nation
Raj: “We work with large brands which have sustainability as a core business strategy. We take back all the post-consumer and post-industrial plastic waste that they’re generating. Next, we use a proprietary cleaning technology to convert all recovered plastic to a near-virgin form that the brands then can use again to make new products and packaging. The other pillar of our business is a data intelligence platform that we have developed to track city waste.”

Why focus on plastic?
Raj: “When we started we were just looking at solving the garbage problem. But once we began working in this space, we quickly realised that materials like paper, glass and metal already have some sort of recycling systems, and were not posing a major threat to the environment or people working in the trade.

Plastic is different. Every year, India consumes 20 million tons, and discards almost half of that, around 70% of which is recovered by a widespread informal sector. That feeds into small to medium ‘mom and pop’ extrusion businesses that lack the technical wherewithal to convert this plastic into something value-added. As a result, you have thousands of recyclers with very rudimentary techniques for segregating, shredding, cleaning and extrusion, producing really low-grade plastic that is going into all sorts of low-value applications. So due to poor recycling, we’re losing over a billion dollars annually in economic value. Banyan Nation provides access for the 3-5 million informal players to the mainstream recycling markets and connects them to quality buyers.”

"Big brands in India all have a willingness to use recycled plastic, but they cannot because of a lack of regulation

How open are brands in India to working with recycled plastic?
Mani: “Big brands in India all have a willingness to use recycled plastic, but they cannot. The fundamental problem is not only that the collection is informal, the guys who extrude the plastic are also informal. Someone will collect lead-laden battery casings, for example. Somebody else will do discarded plastic furniture. They’re both polypropylene. They’ll mix both of these and make a resin, but because there’s no regulation, the quality of end products is extremely poor. That is where India has been stuck for the past 30 to 40 years. Recycled resin producers and plastic manufacturers will do whatever it takes to keep costs low, and as a result mainstream brands lack a trusted and responsible recycling partner. Banyan changes the game in manufacturing, and how brands perceive plastic. For example: in automobile manufacturing in India, no company has been able to commercially demonstrate the use of recycled resin produced from discarded bumpers to make new bumpers again. Banyan became the first to do so, with Tata.”

Your main product is high-quality Better PlasticTM granules - tell me about those.
Mani: “Better Plastic™ is high quality recycled resin that is a viable alternative to virgin plastic. Our plastic can be recycled many times and can go into mainstream applications - something which has not been possible up until now. Take a shampoo bottle: it isn’t optimized for recyclability, it’s optimized for eyeballs, with print, labels, adhesive, ink and so on. Banyan’s proprietary cleaning technology is able to eliminate those contaminants. If a recycler doesn’t have the ability to remove those, you can’t make a bottle again. Now, if you take Banyan Nation out of the equation, conventional recyclers in India today cannot help any of these top brands make a bottle again.”

"Today, the use of recycled resin for mainstream products is a novelty. We want to make it the norm" 

Why did Banyan also build a data intelligence platform?
Raj: “Cities, particularly in emerging economies, don’t have a very good sense of how waste is flowing, how much is being recovered, diverted to landfill, recycled, and so on. We started our data intelligence platform to understand the flow of plastic waste so we could integrate the formal sector and informal network of aggregators and traders into our own supply chain. Now, cities across India are coming to buy this platform to make their own waste management more effective, efficient and economical.”

How could the Postcode Lottery Green Challenge impact Banyan Nation?
Mani: “We want to transform the game in product manufacturing in India. Today, the use of recycled resin for mainstream products is a novelty. We want to make it the norm. Recognition from the Postcode Lottery Green Challenge will inspire brands and help build virtuous cycles of business relationships. I’m hoping you guys can take us to our vision: that in the next 10 years we’ll be setting examples for Asia and other parts of the world, who can use our technology and data intelligence platform, and for the brands we work with here to fearlessly carry us elsewhere!” 

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