Here’s why you should not snip off the tip of your milk packet

In addition to fragments of milk packets, the caps of PET bottles and crown corks of beverage bottles, too, have to be disposed of responsibly.
Here’s why you should not snip off the tip of your milk packet
Here’s why you should not snip off the tip of your milk packet
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How convenient it is to snip or tear off a portion of the milk sachet or chips packet and dig right in! But have we ever wondered where these small pieces of plastic end up? Even if these pieces are thrown into a designated non-biodegradable bin, do they actually make it to the landfill and recycling units to be processed?

A few months ago, Karnataka BJP Vice-President Tejaswini Ananthkumar had tweeted that if milk packets are opened without separating a small piece of it, about 50 lakh such pieces can be prevented from making it to the garbage. She also stated that these small pieces cannot be recycled. The message started doing the rounds on social media platforms, making one wonder if it is true.

Well, according to waste management experts, it is true, although partially - such small pieces can be recycled, if disposed of in the right and environment-friendly manner.

Why small plastic pieces are not recyclable

One household generates probably three to four sachets or packets on a daily basis. Compare this with the large-scale use of such packets, a consolidated number of which could be much larger.

Kripa Ramachandran, an independent researcher on municipal solid waste and waste workers, explains what happens to these small fragments of plastic that do not make it to recycling units.   

“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 waterbodies, and as a result, marine organisms may mistakenly consume them.”

From a recycling point of view, such plastics have a high recycle value, irrespective of its size. “But many a time, such pieces are missed during waste transportation,” says Priyadarshini of Waste Winn Recyclers Pvt Ltd, which engages in extensive waste management, including for events. 

“We collect mix dry waste, which includes plastic, paper and metals. When this is emptied and sorted to be recycled, chances of missing such small pieces are high,” she adds.

In addition to fragments of milk packets, the caps of PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles and crown corks of beverage bottles, too, have a high recycle value but do not make it to processing units.

What can and needs to be done

Ideally, such packets or sachets should be opened by cutting a line halfway across the cover. Here are some other easier techniques:

But if a portion of the packet is snipped off, make sure to put it in the main packet before disposing of it. 

“Although social media is creating a lot of awareness on the harmful effects of small pieces of plastic, or microplastic, the manufacturers also have a huge responsibility in addressing this issue,” says Kripa.

Plastic packets and disposable food containers feature an icon, which warns its consumers to not litter the surroundings and dispose of it in a dustbin. “However, nobody says how to dispose them. Considering the growing plastic pollution across the globe, this is not enough. Either the dustbins reaching the landfills are overflowing, or cities do not have space to have another landfill. Hence, manufacturers should think beyond addressing the issue of littering, and should say how these plastic packets or cartons need to be cut and disposed of,” she elucidates.

She also urges the government to push manufacturers to make this issue a core principle of extended producers responsibility (EPR), a strategy to make producers accountable for the waste they produce.

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