Awais Bin Nasim knows you cannot win all the battles in life and that you should not try to. But the one battle he is determined to win targets the creation of a socially and environmentally sustainable value chain around his company’s main product: liquid food carton packages.
A mechanical engineer with a Lahore University of Management Sciences degree in business management, Mr Nasim has been running Swedish liquid food packaging and processing giant Tetra Pak’s operations in Pakistan as its managing director for around a couple of years. Before his elevation to this position, he had also been the director of the firm’s operations in the Greater Middle East and Africa region.
“In Pakistan, we have managed to recycle 41 per cent or 26,000 tonnes of our total annual production, which stood at nearly five billion cartons last year. Next year we hope to recycle 28,000 tonnes of carton waste. The global recycling average for our company is about 26pc. Pakistan ranks among the top 10 nations out of 190 countries where Tetra Pak is operating,” he says, proud of the sustainability initiative started by Tetra Pak nearly 15 years ago.
In Pakistan, we have managed to recycle 41pc or 26,000 tonnes of our total annual production, which stood at nearly 5bn cartons last year
“We have partnered with two recyclers in Lahore and Karachi for this purpose and developed a demonstrable, scalable and financially sustainable recycling model,” Mr Nasim, who has more than two and a half decades of experience leading operations and business development in companies like Engro, Dadex and Tetra Pak, elaborates.
“We support them in the collection of cartons and marketing the products they make from the carton waste. These are small companies and can’t do without our support.”
The recyclers have developed technology to separate paper, aluminium and polyethylene from the cartons. Paper is used in making corrugated cartons and aluminium and polyethylene to manufacture roofing tiles and slabs that give you temperature insulation of 10 degrees Celcius. In addition to that, they produce cabins, and lawn and park furniture and swings. These products are now in great demand because of their quality and durability.
Mr Nasim is spot on when he says the success of sustainability initiatives largely depends on the profitable economic activity around them. For example, he says, the billion tree Tsunami initiative needs to be linked with commercial activity to replace import of paperboard and pulp. The government must try to promote the concept of commercial forestry. “Any initiative to increase forestation that does not have an economic activity tied to it will fade out.”
The biggest recycling challenge in Pakistan is the absence of waste handling and sustainability initiatives. Thus, the recyclers in Pakistan face enormous difficulties in the collection of carton waste and it starts from the points where these packages are emptied: at homes, restaurants, etc. “There is no concept of segregating different solid waste — glass, paper, plastic, etc — in our country as all is dumped, rolled out and collected as one. With collection starting in one bin, it increases the cost of recycling 2-3 times as it makes waste sorting extremely challenging.
This also damages the quality of the recyclable waste; our carton packages start to decay, if not sorted out from the dump, in three days following which they cannot be recycled and have to be consigned to landfills,” Mr Nasim explains.
“Then we don’t have a legal framework around the recycling of waste in our country. This makes the creation of profitable economic activity around waste recycling next to impossible. Tetra Pak is able to achieve a significant amount of its waste recycled because we have created profitable economic activity around this in the last 10 years or so. Legal framework and infrastructure are crucial to the generation of viable business models and economic activities around sustainability initiatives. The government should provide a law. When the government says you can’t dispose of all solid waste in one bin consumers will start segregating the waste. Until then why would anyone invest additional money in waste disposal?”
Now the recyclers are approaching housing societies and asking them to segregate solid waste and forward for recycling.
“Nobody has asked us to take this sustainability initiative as there is no law in Pakistan. We are doing it because of our social responsibility.”
Mr Nasim says his company is working closely with other industrial stakeholders as well as the government to build legislation and regulations, and create public awareness around its sustainability initiative.
“Everybody is trying to do something. Now we have formed an industry alliance, which is also working closely with the government to address issues related to waste recycling. But the problem on the ground relates to building infrastructure for collection and recycling. There is a unanimous agreement by the industry that we all need to come together to address the recycling needs; how it will happen is the challenge. That’s why we need legislation around it because, in its absence, it is very difficult for people to follow it — or for the industry to make it happen.
“If someone thinks the change can be brought about overnight, they are grossly mistaken. We need laws, regulations and initiatives that can assist in the creation of economic activity around the sustainability initiatives, and help us move forward in phases,” the managing director underscores.
Mr Nasim rightly says no one can do this alone. “We are doing our part but that is not enough. What we are saying is that let’s solve the problem starting from waste collection, waste sorting, and not dumping the collected waste in landfills that are creating an environmental challenge and are not generating any economic activity.
“Neither government nor the private sector can pull it off on their own. It has to be a collective, collaborative effort that takes the whole view of solid waste and not just food cartons or plastic. But the government’s role is crucial in providing infrastructure and environment where the shift towards social and environmental sustainability can be made gradually. But the push has to come through legislation and regulations on the disposal of waste.”
Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, December 13th, 2021
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