The effectiveness of take-back schemes in India

What is a take-back scheme?

Take-back Scheme is a program where in a brand carries out a focused activity to take back a specific type of post-consumer material of its own product packaging or a category of ‘brand-agnostic’ material from a specific geographical location. For example, an e-commerce company running a take-back scheme of its packaging material or an automobile company carrying out take-back of all end-of-life lithium-ion batteries to be sent to a set of recyclers.

How is a take-back scheme different from Extended Producer Responsibility?

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is more broad-based. It is always brand-agnostic. For example, an FMCG brand could fulfil its EPR obligation of flexible monolayer plastics in India by collecting any and all plastics in the category such as PP, LDPE, PVC, etc.

On the other hand, a different brand may decide to run a take-back scheme specifically for the post-consumer packaging material of its own products from a set of cities in India.

Is take-back scheme more effective than EPR?

While the quantum of post-consumer waste collected in a take-back scheme may be much smaller than in EPR, the brand is more or less guaranteed of being able to collect a clean stream of post-consumer waste with complete traceability.

It becomes easier to recycle the material collected through take-back schemes as compared to EPR. For example, a brand that is looking to utilize recycled material in food application, is more likely to trust the purity of material collected through take-back schemes as against that collected through EPR.

What is the role of Deposit Refund Systems in take-back schemes?

Countries that have Deposit Refund Systems (DRS) running in the form of Reverse Vending Machines or a cash refund scheme are likely to be more successful in implementing take-back schemes as there is an inherent incentive for consumers to return packaging or end-of-life electronic waste.

In countries like India where DRS is not in place, brands find it difficult to implement effective take-back schemes. One often hears sustainability managers of brands in India complain about a lukewarm or a complete lack of response to DRS boxes or reverse vending machines placed at retail outlets.

Marks & Spencer ran a campaign in selected Indian cities for vouchers against return of old clothes for recycling

Does technology play a role in effectively implementing take-back schemes?

Technology can play a very important role in implementing an effective take-back scheme, especially in India where DRS is not popular.

A mobile app for rewarding eco-friendly gestures is one such technology. Each time a consumer brings back packaging or electronic waste to designated locations and uploads a picture the app, she gets rewarded with points, tokens or vouchers.

Zeloop is a mobile app that rewards users for eco-friendly gestures such as depositing bottles in bins or plogging

Popular e-commerce apps can be used to nudge consumers to gather specific types of waste material such as used packaging material or dead batteries at their homes. Reverse logistics of these materials can be coordinated using the technology with their existing last mile delivery network.

In conclusion, with stricter regulation for use of recycled content in packaging in India, we will see more brands resorting to focused take-back schemes being implemented in India with a significant use of technology.

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