Chuk's redefining sustainability strategy for cutlery

“My message is simple, start with doing 50% good because sometimes that's all people can change. You don't need to wait to do 100% good; you can begin with 50%. It also aligns with what our team believes in – one plate at a time” says Satish Chamyvelumani, compostables business head at Pakka, in a conversation with Disha Chakraborty of WhatPackaging?

13 Mar 2024 | By Satish Chamyvelumani

Chuk uses a plant-based bioplastic with a compostable filler at a proprietary ratio, and is continuously working to optimise it

Plastic has been commercially present for 60-70 years but takes about 400 years to decompose under ideal conditions. Otherwise, it remains in the environment. In contrast, compostable tableware turns into manure when sown into the soil and decomposes in about 180 days. So, now, we have the power to choose our impact.

We produce about 60 tonnes a day, out of which about 40 tonnes go into various tableware manufacturers, including us. The bagasse required to make the pulp is all sourced from within a 200-km radius. We aim to minimise our carbon footprint by collecting from nearby regions rather than transporting it from distant areas like Maharashtra to Ayodhya. Setting up a pulp facility is challenging as it requires substantial resources such as water, electricity, and labour. Let’s say if we start transporting bagasse from Chennai to Ayodhya, we would be negatively offsetting carbon footprint savings. India is the largest producer of sugar, and there's plenty of bagasse available today. Hopefully, other players will emerge in the southern region to set up pulp manufacturing facilities.

A lot of research is needed; we are nowhere close to what we need to do. The availability of alternative materials is very limited, and more investments are required. In India, the daily usage of disposable plastics in the food service industry is about 2,000 tonnes, whereas we produce only 10 tonnes a day, despite being a significant player in this industry. If the top three players can only manage 15-20 tonnes a day, we need a lot more innovations for cost reduction, improved machinery, and enhanced process efficiency.


Satish Chamyvelumani- compostables business head at Pakka
 

The name itself says, Chuk, which means to throw, we promote direct soil disposal. We ensure that our formulations ensure the product disintegrates in 180 days and starts regenerating the soil. It’s not about disintegration, it's also about enriching soil by adding nutrients back.

Chuk is launching the 'Regenerative Partnerships' program. This focuses not only on converting the disposables used by an institution but also on managing the end-of-life cycle for all disposables that the brand supplies. The aim is to go all the way in. There's a business model that I recently heard of wherein for every plastic bottle purchased, the cost is increased, and a company works on removing an equivalent bottle. For instance, a water bottle priced at Rs 60 is sold for Rs 80, with Rs 20 dedicated to removing a bottle from the environment. This initiative employs people at material recovery facilities, contributing to a cleaner environment.

So, instead of aiming for 100% conversion, we are taking steps even with items where compostable options aren't available. Rather than avoiding the issue due to the lack of compostable solutions for certain products, we approach it differently. Essentially, we are carbon offsetting.


Sustainability at Chuk
The number one step is for a company to understand its environmental impact. Taking a moment to pause, reflect, and ask basic questions about where products come from and where they go after use can lead to deep realisations. This self-awareness is crucial, as without it, external pitches for sustainability may not resonate or drive meaningful change.

In the Indian context, the concept of sustainability is still evolving. Many express interests in becoming sustainable brands and choose products like ours. While some carbon calculations have been conducted, they aren't continuous. However, measuring success isn't only about numbers.
Sustainability is not a cost; it's certainly not a long-term cost. While it may appear as a high cost in the short term, the reality is, if we don't embrace sustainability now, the cost of not being sustainable in the future could be unbearable.

Packaging as a marketing tool
There's a Hindi saying, Jo dikhta hai wohi bikta hai (What is seen is what sells). So, everything begins with the outer appearance. While the contents matter, the initial attraction is the packaging. The trend of making packaging more colorful is to grab attention. There is a shift towards monochrome kraft and extremely simplistic packaging, but it's not happening rapidly enough. 

Chuk’s plans for the near future
The goal is to achieve 100% compostable packaging. This is something that we need as mankind. But I would like to highlight one thing here. Most of us use the terms compostable and biodegradable interchangeably, which is wrong. It’s important to distinguish compostable from biodegradable materials. While biodegradable materials simply mean they will break down over time, compostable materials decompose much faster. While a regular plastic bag might be labelled biodegradable, it could take hundreds of years to decompose and might fragment into microplastics. On the other hand, a compostable bag made from plant-based materials breaks down within weeks, leaving behind no harmful residue.

Since post-consumer recycled (PCR) materials are plastics derived from recycled consumer products, they do offer a more sustainable alternative to traditional plastics. However, it's important to understand the limitations of PCR in this context. Currently, the recycling rates for many types of plastic remain low, and the downcycling process used for some PCR materials can compromise their quality and suitability for certain applications. This can limit the long-term environmental benefits compared to fully compostable packaging.

The market response
The major indicator is the presence of repeat customers, which shows the sustainability program's impact. For example, Haldirams has been our partner for four years, which reduces landfill waste significantly. Salad Days and A2B have been continuous purchasers. This shows a more meaningful metric than mere carbon credits, which are honestly non-existent in the Indian context.

Our revenue growth is the second indicator. It shows our increasing scale and impact. Customers nationwide, with substantial repeat volumes, demonstrate the success of our efforts in instilling sustainability values

Chuk at Ram Mandir
We are really grateful for being chosen by the Ram Mandir Trust to ensure a sustainable consecration ceremony. While it was a moment of pride and gratitude to witness Chuk compostable tableware at the Mandir, we were glad to align with their objective of promoting environmental consciousness and reducing the use of single-use plastics. 

The marketing head represented Chuk with the UN body that oversees sustainability. This opens doors for potential involvement in policy making. Apart from ongoing discussions with current customers, efforts are directed toward engaging non-customers and spreading awareness on social media. The company actively collaborates with other sustainable manufacturers, participating in global events like Gulf Food and NRA. 

Latest Poll

The packaging industry is confused by recycling and sustainability rules in India. What is the biggest challenge?

Results

The packaging industry is confused by recycling and sustainability rules in India. What is the biggest challenge?

Shortcomings in EPR policy

 

21.05%

Inadequate infrastructure

 

10.53%

Shortage of recycling firms

 

21.05%

Lack of consumer awareness

 

47.37%

Total Votes : 19

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