Unbranded products/local brands and Britannia have been identified as the top polluters in a survey conducted by a Chennai-based civic group, the Citizen Consumer and Civic Action Group (CAG), in 2022.
This is the fifth brand audit conducted by CAG, and aims at both increasing awareness among consumers about the use and disposal of plastic waste, and holding manufacturers liable for their products, said Sumana Narayan, senior researcher at CAG, one of the authors of a paper on the survey.
The survey, conducted on the N4 beach in North Chennai on one day last year, for a length of 300 metres found that unbranded products/local brands contributed to 29.97% of the pollution, while Britannia’s contribution was 23%, together making up over half of all pollutants found. Tied in third place were Aavin and ITC at 6%.
Participants included students, CAG members and others who are interested: they worked from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m., collecting waste and recording data. A toolkit or questionnaire guided them in data entry. Ms. Narayan along with Madhuvanthi Rajkumar, researcher, CAG, authored the paper.
The participants had to record the brand, the product type, whether the product is single or multi-layer plastic, the kind of plastic and take a picture of the cover, Ms. Narayanan said. “The onus is always on the consumer to make conscious decisions [about waste disposal], but we need to hold manufacturers accountable, which is what the audit aims to do,” she added. Since almost every product comes with plastic packaging, the option of reducing its usage is virtually impossible, she pointed out.
The manufacturers must be held liable for the waste produced at every stage of their product’s life and if this Extended Producer Responsibility is followed, it can lead to sustainable packaging options, she said.
In 76% of the plastic waste collected, the packaging was made of more than one type of plastic or a combination of several layers of material. Multi-layered plastic like this, has a very low value in the recycling industry. Low-density polyethylene constituted 14% of the products found and PET and polypropylene both contributed to 3.58% of the plastic waste, the researchers say.
Through brand audits, participants also get a chance to recognize the plastics they use and be more conscious about using them and about their disposal, the researchers said.