I was a packet Project
During my childhood, the morning used to start with the smell of boiling milk, followed by a glass of warm milk. I still remember that our local milkman used to deliver milk in our home and my mom used to separate the cream from the milk with elan! After few years, things had changed and milk packets started coming into the home, but still my morning remained same with a glass of warm milk. Milk is one of our staple food since ages and 90% of milk comes in plastic packaging. Generally, one household generates two to four sachets or packets on a daily basis. Nationally, the average household size is 4.9 people per household and we have 248.8 Million Households across India. 497.6 million milk packets consumed daily if we assume two packets per household.
"Indian households collectively generate nearly 26,000 tonnes of plastic wastage every day. Food is a generous contributor. Last year, 24.6 crore packaging units sold across five categories in our country- food , beverages, beauty and personal care, dog & cat food and home care. Food packaging alone accounted 23.5 crore unit".
How the humble milk packets and FMGC packagings had set out a pathway to lessen environment pollution and decreasing carbon footprints?
It all started as final jury assignment for the elective subject of “Sustainability Studies” in NIFT Chennai. The 41 design students of this elective had reinterpreted the daily used milk packets & MLPs into utility based designer products to promote sustainability in their daily lives under the mentorship of Ms. Sengupta and supported by Director of NIFT Chennai along with academic
coordinators. As one of the student quoted "it started as a jury assignment but it turned out fun and useful", the project aims to spread awareness about mindful consumption and responsibility towards generating packaging waste with the creative upcycling design solution.
Going a tad deep into the context:
We all know that in this era of Anthropocene, we are standing in front of the huge amount of waste what we created and which we are unable to manage, is leading us towards 6th mass extinction. Our linear pattern of consumptions, have brought us in the position of huge environmental pollution. “I was a packet project” aims to spread awareness about upcycling by following circular economy, where waste is no more waste but a new resource so that we can stop adding up landfills and stop chocking waterways.
According to the Environment Ministry, about 20,000 tonnes of plastic waste is generated every day in the country and out of which only 13,000-14000 tonnes are collected. More than one-third of the total 'branded plastic' that goes into garbage daily from households could be just 'dairy products packaging' like milk and buttermilk (chhaach) pouches and cups of yoghurt (dahi) and icecream.
As the companies don't have any established collection or recycling mechanism for milk packets till today, this leaves the entire process to the unorganized sector of rag-pickers .A small fraction of the milk pouches are recycled while most of them 90% (447.84 million packets) end up clogging drains, floating in rivers or rotting in landfills. Milk packets are made of low-density polyethylene (LDPE), which is a subclass of plastics. To be recycled, this type of plastic has to be compressed at a high temperature and in certain shape; else, they add no value. If such pieces do not reach the recycling units, it disintegrates into microplastics, that is, less than five millimetres in length, like the size of microbeads used in gels and toothpaste. Rain and wind carry these smaller fragments into drainage systems, which could lead to clogging. These can even enter water-bodies, and as a result, marine organisms may mistakenly consume them.
In reality, recycling the whole milk packet is a huge problem. First of all, the lack of recycling facilities and secondly, the wrong practice of opening the packets by snipping from the corners which result the small LDPEs, mixed with other waste materials. Often, the milk packets and the smaller cut portions are incinerated which produce toxic air including carbon monoxide, acrolein, formaldehyde, formic, acetic and propionic acids.
For MLPs the scenario is also very grim. The recycling process of MLP in itself is cumbersome because the plastic has to be cleaned thoroughly after it is collected and then, separated based on its type. Hence, the only way to process MLPs in order to get it out of sight is incineration or waste to energy plants.
The solution: reinterpreting the waste packet:
So, the best solution to stop the waste packets going to landfill is the method of “ Creative upcycling design solution”. Through upcycling, the life of waste packets had been lengthened and been barred from leaching harmful chemicals to land or water. Keeping the upcycling benefits in mind, 41 design students from NIFT Chennai had designed different products, ranging from wearable fashion to kitsch accessories. The whole project was done during the lockdown period of COVID19 with the usage of whatever resources they had in their homes. That was also a great lesson on “sustainability” to learn using the local resources and mindful consumption. With the thorough research and numerous online mentoring, the concept designs being created. The next step was to make the prototypes and to check the feasibility. There were challenges in the process of fusing and while stitching the packets to form a structure, but with creative thinking and mentoring those challenges washed away. After making the prototypes, the products were creatively photographed by the students in their homes with whatever resources they had.
Taking it forward:
After the overwhelming success, this project will be carried over to give platforms to other creative individuals who intend to upcycle and reimagine waste milk packets into designer products. Ms. Sengupta will mentor as pro-bono and will share her knowledge in plastic upcycling with the interested mentees. It is also planned to have an online exhibition for spreading the awareness to more people and to encourage them upcycling their household packets. As a responsible human being, we all should come forward to curb out the waste we create and stop environmental pollution.
Followings are the selected designs from young designers who took "Sustainability Studies " as general elective in NIFT, Chennai under the mentorship of Ms. Shaswati Sengupta who is the founder of "Lily & the wonder women":
1. Children's raincoat, gloves & mask made from upcycled milk packets.
Designed & created by young designer Saloni
2. Off-shoulder statement dress from upcycled milk packets;
designed & created by young designer Soupriti Das
3. Crop top made out of upcycled milk packets
designed & created by young designer Roanshi
4. Paint brush organizer and desktop organizer made out of upcycled milk packets.
Designed & created by young designer Harrini R
5. Apron for painting had been made out of upcycled purepet packets.
Designed & created by young designer Soumya.
6. Utility bag had been made out of upcycled milk packets.
Designed & created by young designer Elaiyabharathi.
7. Fashionable kitsch bag had been made out of upcycled MLP packets.
Designed & created by young designer Abinaya.
8. protective gear with detachable hoodie had been made out of upcycled MLP packets.
Designed & created by young designer Vijay Mahar.
9. A cute back-pack had been made out of upcycled oil packets, LDPE packets.
Designed & created by young designer Roanshi.