Symphony Environmental has a solution for the plastic problem

Sunil Panwar, CEO, Symphony Environmental India stated in an interview conducted during Plastindia 2023, “We are solving the problem of single-use plastics by designing the products where 1% addition of weight of our d2w additive makes the PE and PP-based consumer packaging material biodegradable”.

08 Mar 2023 | By WhatPackaging? Team

Sunil Panwar: We are designing the additives in such a way that when it gets added in the packaging material, it will biodegrade itself

Symphony Environmental, is making plastics smarter and sustainable by developing a technology to make plastic biodegradable. The technology is sold in the form of additives or masterbatches, in nearly 100 countries around the world to protect the environment, human health and safety. In a conversation with WhatPackaging?, Sunil Panwar, CEO, Symphony India, talks about the technology that helps to make a packaging biodegradable.

WhatPackaging? (WP?): In a nutshell please share the method in the Symphony magic?
Sunil Panwar (SP):
The producer does not have to make any change in the machinery equipment or manufacturing process. This is added as 1% (weight-wise) in the resin polyethylene or polypropylene granules in the process and subsequently either it is blown into a film or cast into a product. 

WP?: Government policies, how supportive have they been?
In my interactions with the different departments of the government, I have realised that the government is keen to find a workable solution which maintains a balance between the regulatory requirements and industry needs. Now, the government is also interested in using the research data and technical inputs available from the industry as testing of biodegradable plastics involves a long duration, which may take longer than two years. Government may consider introducing the changes in the existing rules after the reviews so that implementation of rules addresses environmental safety, industry requirements and consumer needs. This is important because when there is clarity in policy matters, producers and brand owners will adopt the new technology.

WP?: You have worked closely with the government regarding policies, any suggestions?
It is a complex situation and involves participation of several stakeholders. MoEFCC makes the PWM rules. CPCB or SPCB as a regulatory body is responsible for the implementation of the PWM rules. The implementation of rules requires the test standards. In India, BIS is responsible for establishing the standards, which requires time. I have been in touch with the industry associations as well as the government. The industry is willing to cooperate and follow the PWM rules. A large number of producers have submitted the samples for testing to NABL or BIS accredited labs after the last notification was issued on 7 July, 2022. This shows the industry’s intent to comply.

WP?: How are the producers reacting? Are they ready to adapt to such change?
In the case of biodegradable plastics, the testing period is very long therefore, based on the interim test report of the ongoing test, a provisional certificate could be issued to the producer. However, not even a single producer has received the provisional certificate even after eight months have passed. This process is under review now and my suggestion is to expedite this process so that industry does not suffer. There are more than 1.5 lakh producers of plastic packaging materials, out of this nearly 1.3 lakh producers are from MSME sector. If all the producers have to obtain the certificates after getting their materials tested, then it won’t be practical as there is a severe capacity constraint in testing of biodegradable plastics. 

WP?: How long will it take to introduce the technology in India?
Also it is a long duration test, which may take longer than two years. The cost of the test is also very high as it takes Rs 4.5 to 5.5 lakh to test each sample. This is a huge burden on MSME manufacturers. My suggestion is two: firstly, adopt an established global test standard until India is ready with our own standard and many countries have done the same. For example many countries have adopted ASTM D6954 as their standard. Secondly; approve the principal manufacturers so that every producer needs to go through the approval process as the number of producers are very large in numbers and principal manufacturers of biodegradable additives are limited in numbers.

WP?: Which are the Symphony brands?
We have two brands. One is d2w, a portfolio of biodegradable additive technologies. The second one is d2p and this consists of a range of ``design to protect” technologies like antimicrobial, anti-inspect, anti odour, antifouling and VCI. 

WP?: Why India? Why now?
We have a presence in nearly a hundred countries. But in India, we set up our operations towards the end of 2021. The country was coping with the post-Covid situation. That is when we started our production in India. We did that in order to make it convenient  for our customers. Earlier, the material was being imported, and they could not order a small quantity to do imports. Now, we are manufacturing in India. We offer stock support service all over India through a network of our distributors. Also we provide technical support to our customers wherever required through our team in India.

WP?: What problem is Symphony solving?
The problem that we're solving is single-use plastics. There are two possibilities. One: the consumer is segregating solid waste, which improves the chances of recycling. In case, it goes out to an open environment, water body or drainage system, the material should be able to take care of itself. Now, there are many approaches, about how to deal with plastic waste out of which, one is recycling. In India, currently, statistically 60% of the plastic waste gets recycled. So our effort should be to increase the rate of recycling but plastic packaging material should be able to destroy itself if it does not get recycled.

WP?: How is the industry dealing with the problem?
When it comes to dealing with the problem, it can be dealt with in several ways. How do we reduce the usage? How do we reuse the materials so that we don't have to use plastic packaging? I do see this written as a slogan in many housing societies, workplaces, and even government buildings, which says, “We must ban plastic.” If not plastic, then what? We don't have any alternatives which are economical, now we have a solution to make it eco-friendly. If you are using paper for example, then you are cutting trees. If you are making paper stronger, then you are laminating which means addition of polymer.

WP?: How does Symphony do it?
We are solving the problem by developing the packaging material by adding a small amount of additive, only 1% by weight, which makes it biodegradable. Also we are designing the additives in such a way that when it gets added in the packaging material, it maintains the recyclable property of polymer as well as it is compelled to biodegrade. Now we have to do this thoughtfully, because every package has its own useful-life.

WP?: What inspired this project?
To solve the problem of SUP. The crux of the matter is; we offer additive technologies which when added to regular single-use plastic, makes them biodegradable.

WP:  What is the science behind it?
 Packaging material with d2w biodegrades in the open environment in the same way as nature’s wastes, only quicker. It does so without leaving any toxic residues or fragments of plastics behind. Every polymer has a tendency where its oxidation process starts right after manufacturing. That is why manufacturers have to add antioxidants to resist the oxidative cleavage of the bonds. However, one can accelerate the process by breaking down the long chain molecules into smaller chain molecules. Subsequently, microbes feed on it and convert the matter into CO2, water and biomass. 

WP?: Working principle of the plastic disintegration process:
The principle is that whether it is polyethylene or polypropylene, they are long chain polymers. They are hydrophobic in nature, which means that they don't absorb water. And the first stage of this once the disintegration process starts where the long chain of the molecules are broken down into smaller molecule chains. Oxygen that is present in our atmosphere helps to create oxidative cleavage of the carbon carbon bonds. The molecular weight, which originally is between 2,00,000 to 3,00,000 grams per mole, starts coming down. And this process is accelerated in the presence of UV and temperature that we have in our surroundings. When molecular weight is reduced to 5,000 grams per mole or lower, the microbes like bacteria, fungi, mould feed and yeast start to feed on it and convert the matter into CO2, water and biomass. The biomass when tested is free of harmful heavy metals and eco-toxicity.

WP?: So, Symphony and a few other firms have supplied this to small-scale plastic manufacturers in India. Can it be implemented?
Yes. The process does not require any additional machinery. It is a chemical addition in the form of masterbatch to the normal batch process. Hence, it is possible for small-scale plastic manufacturers as well. 

Latest Poll

Which is the sustainable packaging product among MSMEs that is most popular?


Which is the sustainable packaging product among MSMEs that is most popular?

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Total Votes : 3


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