Huhtamaki, RiverRecycle & VTT partner to develop technology to tackle floating river waste

New technology river waste collector now operational on the Mithi River in Mumbai, India
Huhtamaki, RiverRecycle & VTT partner to develop technology to tackle floating river waste

Photo - Huhtamaki

Finding new ways to address our environmental challenges is reliant on our ability to foster innovation to find ways of driving systemic change. To support such innovation and progress towards circularity, Huhtamaki, a key global provider of sustainable packaging solutions for consumers worldwide, donated EUR 600,000 to fund the development and piloting of a river waste collector, invented by the Finnish cleantech start-up RiverRecycle. The collector is an integral part of RiverRecycle's solution to solve marine waste, one of today's biggest global challenges. With Huhtamaki's support, a prototype waste collector was built and tested in Finland. This was then transported to and assembled in Mumbai, where it is now operational and where it will be collecting waste from the Mithi River for the next 12 months.

"We believe in protecting food, people and the planet. We also believe that cooperation across the value chain with key stakeholders is needed to address global sustainability challenges, such as marine plastics. If we want to drive systemic change, we not only need to support the development and commercialization of innovation that can help stop waste from getting into the oceans, but we also need the monetization of waste and incentivization of local communities to improve their waste management practices," says Thomasine Kamerling, executive vice president Sustainability and Communications at Huhtamaki.

"When operating in a circular economy, cooperation among different players is fundamental to sustainability. Huhtamaki funding enabled us to complete two of the three parts of our journey of transforming plastic waste into a resource with the positive engagement of affected communities. Huhtamaki's commitment is an example of how collaboration helps solve global problems such as plastic waste pollution," says Anssi Mikola, chief executive officer and founder of RiverRecycle.

The Mithi River project is run by a global partnership between UNTIL (now known as UN Global Pulse), VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, RiverRecycle and Earth5R, an India-based citizen-led environmental movement. In addition to building, setting up and operating the river cleaner for a year, Huhtamaki's donation has been used to organize local hands-on workshops on effective waste management and recycling to drive systemic change. The project also provides input to VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland on the floating waste and its seasonal variations that can optimize clean-up operations and recycling processes for the future.

"The Huhtamaki funding enables the adaption of optical sensors and drones in detecting floating plastic objects and differentiation of plastics from organic material. VTT's contribution also includes pyrolysis test runs and assessing chemical recycling of the recovered plastic waste fractions. At a broader level, we aim to enhance circular economy solutions for the global challenge of plastic waste pollution. In addition to the technology involvement, we also appreciate the collaboration between local partners and communities as an essential part of the successful project implementation," says Jukka Sassi, senior scientist, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland.

Huhtamaki's ambition is to have 100% of its products designed to be recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2030. In India, where Huhtamaki has 16 units and manufactures mainly high-quality flexible packaging that protects food, pharmaceuticals, and personal and home care products, the Company already has several recyclable flexible packaging structures in the market under its Huhtamaki blueloop concept. In addition to the Mithi River project, Huhtamaki is contributing to building necessary recycling infrastructure by setting up a pilot recycling plant for flexible packaging in India, which should be operational by the end of 2021.

"We are excited to be a part of this global partnership and the development of the technology enabling us to clean Mithi, the only river that flows through the heart of Mumbai. This project promotes sustainability with a holistic approach by collecting plastic waste, while also empowering local communities to gain knowledge and employment," notes Sudip Mall, managing director, Flexible Packaging India at Huhtamaki.

The Mithi River project is one of three initiatives that Huhtamaki funded as part of its 100th anniversary to address global sustainability challenges and build and learn from circular economy initiatives globally.

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