“The biggest challenge of recyclability in Pakistan is the collection.”
Awais Bin Nasim has been the lead person in organizations for Operations, Business Development, and Organization Development with a wide range of experience in various sectors mainly Food Packaging and Petrochemical spanning over 27 years. He also has extensive experience in the Agriculture sector as well as with various organizations for introducing high-efficiency drip irrigation systems and greenhouse farming in Pakistan. He is a mechanical engineer with an MBA from LUMS.
For the last 10 years, Awais Bin Nasim has been working in Tetra Pak. Currently, he is the Managing Director for Tetra Pak Pakistan. He has also been the Vice President of Services Operation for Greater Middle East and Africa. Heading a team of 600 people across the region, he has been a key member for leading business model change for the Services Operation in Tetra Pak with 3 successful waves of organization design and optimization across the global organization.
Following are the edited transcripts of a recent conversation BR Research had with Mr. Awais Bin Nasim that revolved around recycling in Pakistan and the challenges around it:
BR Research: Tetra Pak promises to deliver the world's most sustainable food packaging. How significant is the challenge of recyclability?
Awais Bin Nasim: Globally on the average - keeping in mind the varying recycling capabilities of different countries - our carton is about 70 percent recyclable. However, in Pakistan we are working with our recycling partners to recycle 100 percent of each carton and we manage to recycle approximately 41 percent of our total annual production. Components like polyethylene, aluminium, paper board, and also plastic caps are recycled and used for various purposes. However, if a good product is not channelized properly, it becomes useless. The biggest challenge of recyclability in Pakistan is the collection and that starts at the home level. There is little to no awareness of segregating waste in the country; it is all collected, churned, and rolled out as one. The fermentation of waste begins after three days, making waste sorting very challenging. This also results in waste being discarded in landfills.
Secondly, recyclability is difficult because there is no legislation around it.
And third, there is no infrastructure or awareness around it even at the municipality level. Municipalities should actually take a lead here because only one company cannot make it happen; it must be a collective effort.
Since it's not our core business, we have partnered with the right people for recycling. We want a demonstrable, scalable, and financially sustainable recycling model. In the last 10 years, we have been able to develop two recyclers who work with us. And despite the challenges of collection, we have done pretty well across the globe. Tetra Pak is present in 190 countries, and our recycling rate is about 40 percent of the whole business.
BRR: Can you incentivize your consumer/buyer somehow to address this challenge of collection for recycling - maybe by collaborating with other MNCs and FMCGs in the market?
ABN: We do have such collaborative efforts going on. There is an organization called Collect and Recycle (CoRe) Alliance, which is the first-ever packaging alliance in Pakistan formed with the mission to eliminate packaging waste by enabling formal collection and recycling. The alliance is joined by the country’s leading industry players, non-governmental organizations, and renowned packaging firms with the mission to create a circular economy by reducing the packaging footprint and encouraging sustainable and innovative practices. At the same time, another thing on our agenda is that we are also working with shopping malls, retail and departmental stores, superstores to facilitate and encourage collection from the customers against some incentive.
But I would like to mention that on paper and in discussions, such ideas appeal a lot, and a lot of the time awareness creation is highlighted. While creating awareness is one of the legs, the actual problem on the ground comes in collaborating because of different interests; and the laying down of the whole infrastructure of the collection and recycling process. There is a unanimous agreement by the industry players that we all need to come together to address the recycling need; how it will be done is the real deal. That’s why I emphasize legislation around it because, in its absence, it's very difficult for people to follow it - or for us to make it happen. The push has to come from legislation and regulation on the disposal of waste.
BRR: So let's talk about the ways this mission of collaboration can be taken forward to create a greater impact.
ABN: Rather than trying to work in isolation or individually as organizations, we need to go to the municipalities as a pool and tell them to understand the benefits of collecting and sorting waste for recycling rather than throwing it into landfills. The collaboration has to be of multiple stakeholders, and their engagement and commitment.
Somebody has to put together the overarching strategy for Pakistan, its regions, and its industries. The first should be that the public sector and the private sector should sit together and chalk out a vision for the country. We can then start filtering it down to each area, function, region, and region and institutionalize it all for sustainability.
We will be able to help and make our contribution by bringing in our experiences and expertise. Tetra Pak as a global player can bring in initiatives taken worldwide. Recyclability is our expertise and we are sharing our model with many. We are doing our part but that’s not enough. So what we are saying is that let’s solve the problem one by one 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.
BRR: The government’s focus is mostly on pre-plantation and afforestation to address the larger environmental challenge. How could that help you since Tetra Pak is an importer of pulp?
ABN: It links up very well with us since we are importing paperboard and pulp. We are trying to promote the concept of commercial forestry. Any initiative to increase forestation that does not have an economic activity tied to it will fizzle out. Sweden has increased the net size of its forests, and Tetra Pak being a Swedish company is trying to get the technology from some of the partners and replicate or emulate the model here. :