Unearthing How G. Shankerdas is solving the Plastic Problems through the responsible production of Plastic Items


By Ishmael Kindama Dumbuya

The issue of plastic is predominantly gaining momentum in the global world. This is why during this year’s World Environment Day on June 5th 2018, the world over including Sierra Leone celebrate the World Environment Day with the theme “beat Plastic Pollution”. The World Environment Day is the UN’s most important day for encouraging worldwide awareness and action for the protection of the environment. Since it began in 1974, it has grown to become a global platform for public outreach that is widely celebrated in over 100 countries. The day was celebrated in Sierra Leone by the Environment Protection Agency at the British Council Hall in Freetown with the presence of key dignitaries including the management of G. Shankerdas.

During the raising the awareness of plastic very recently on World Environment Day, the Chief Executive Officer of G. Shankerdas ltd., Mr. Ram Shankerdas said the “purpose of this important day is to reiterate the fragility of our planet’s current state, and to emphasize the need for us all to work together, to collaborate and formulate tangible strategies that combat the harm being done to the environment. The irresponsible use of plastic has caused massive damage to the environment in the country and the country as a whole over the past years”.

Since G. Shankerdas has noted that the irresponsible use of plastic has caused massive damage to the environment in the country, Mr. Ram said “in circumstances where alternatives to plastic are not feasible to switch over to, we need to collectively formulate strategies that encourage responsible and environmentally-protective production of plastics locally, and of responsible importation of plastics by importers of finished-goods”. One example of this Mr. Ram said “is biodegradable or compostable plastic, which is of course a very complex subject with varying opinions, but still an avenue worth keeping in mind”.

According to Mr. Ram, they have not “for at least the last 4 years, produced a single piece of plastic to be sold to water-sachet manufacturers of which there are roughly 250 in Freetown alone! This were one of the largest customer-bases for our plastics division but we had realised that it was not a market that we wanted to be involved in, with one of the key reasons being the damaging effect of these sachets on the environment after use and the lack of a strategy to mitigate this”.

He said they have considered the possibility of using biodegradable plastics for this and, though it would be a complex and expensive shift for the sector, had advocated for a change to be made sector-wide. Without the regulatory framework in place, “it would have left us with a product that would be much more expensive that the competitors and thus unmarketable – that is, competition from local and imported goods. Therefore, instead of continuing in this way, we simply stopped this division and, as mentioned, have not supplied the plastic rolls to a single water-pouch producer for the last 4 years”.

The G. Shankerdas CEO said that “instead of venturing down the route of biodegradable plastics, an alternative solution to this problem would be to encourage or support companies that set up recycling plants. We have a small-scale plastic recycling plant for our film plastics and a re-grinding plant for our PET bottles – which allows us to melt and reuse our internal waste-plastic. Though this is often not a cost-effective solution, given the high electricity and processing costs here, it is one that we undertake as a signal of our commitment of having minimal internal wastage of plastic. I can imagine that there are not many companies here that would think in the same way”. He also said the real challenges, and the bulk of the disposal issues, arise when dealing not with internal-waste but with user-plastics, after the consumer-use stage and collecting, storing, and effectively using or disposing of the plastics proves to be the main concern worldwide.

Commenting on the issue of sensitization of the public and aggregation of Water plastic, Mr. Ram said equally important to managing the responsible production and importation of environmentally-friendly plastics and materials generally, is the sensitization, support and encouragement that needs to be given to consumers to use and dispose of plastics responsibly especially when given the amount of unavoidable plastic wastage that gets thrown away daily around the country, there is “need to promote the importance of generally keeping our city clean, and more specifically how plastic waste should be handled”.

Still on the sensitization of the public, Mr. Ram said the cleaning on Saturday is a valuable initiative to have been started. He said “it is not only a great step in providing a short-term solution to the garbage problem, but also as a sensitisation tool to signify the importance of keeping our city clean” adding that this mentality needs to gradually be ingrained in consumers, and along with it the support and encouragement to continue to behave in an environmentally-responsible way.

He maintained that the sensitization can eventually lead the way to a successful initiative to separate plastic wastes from other waste and aggregate waste-plastic adding that though this is a tricky and can be an expensive endeavour, and around the world, there are many means in which this can be done. Some of these he said are; “a simple initiative that could work here is the use of dustbins. Dustbins can be put all around the city, and though these will of course incur expenses, these can be sponsored by private sector players who can be allowed to advertise on the dust-bins which is a common strategy in other African countries and in Asian countries, the youth groups are mobilised and paid daily wages to collect waste plastic and bring it to the recycling companies”.

On the issue of the long term strategies, Mr. Ram said “once we have as a combined force realised the importance of disposing of our plastic waste responsibly, or achieved a means of sorting our waste and aggregating the plastic waste, the next step would be for us to appropriately dispose of, recycle, or reuse these waste plastics”. Thankfully, even for this there are many and increasing methods to do so – naturally some being more investment-heavy strategies than others. But, some of them are not only effective waste-management models, but also successful business models that can be successful businesses in their own right.

According to Mr. Ram, once collected and aggregated, a number of different processes can be implemented to convert plastic into a variety of useful forms essentially recycling the used plastic and reusing it again in a different form. Some of these usefulness he mentioned are; plastic can be converted to a substitute for coal tar for roads (e.g. South Africa), PET (Bottles) can be converted into textiles and clothing, plastic Waste as an Energy Source for the power grid and Pyrolysis for making diesel and petrol out of plastics waste.

G. Shankerdas was founded in 1939 by Ram’s great-grandfather who moved to Sierra Leone almost 100 years ago. There employee-base is roughly 1000 employees, and their manufacturing portfolio consists of beverages (water, soft-drinks, and alcoholic drinks), plastics, mattresses and foam items, simple cosmetics to name but a few as well as a Retail Division (consisting of roughly 12 shops around the country) and an Agricultural Division. Their plastic manufacturing portfolio consists of Water Storage Tanks, PVC Pipes for drainage and Conduit Pipes, household items (such as buckets, plates, cups, etc.), and film items (rain-sheeting, bags, etc.).

Mr. Ram said the production of Plastic items makes up quite a small portion of their operations and more important than our portfolio is their company ethos. “We are a fully ISO-certified company, which means we have international standards and systems in place and adhere to the international norms used by companies in developed countries. Among our various ISO certifications, such as 18001 for OHSAS, 17025 for our Laboratory, 22000 for Food Safety Management, we are also proudly ISO-certified for Environmental Protection – ISO 14001 (for the last four years), a rare achievement in the region”.

He reflected that “we also regularly receive accolades from local and international bodies with regards to our approach and operations and in 2017, we were invited to participate at the ECOWAS Quality Awards in Ivory Coast and were nominated as one of the top-quality companies in the whole ECOWAS Region. Similarly, we were invited to showcase our portfolio at the ECOQUAF Conference on Quality Infrastructure in Senegal in 2018 February”. In Sierra Leone, a recent environment-related example is that the international NGO “Shout Climate Change” nominated them as the winner of the Environmentally-Conscious CEO of the Year in 2017.

Shankerdas Mr. Ram said is a “Sierra Leonean company that prides itself on high standards of operation and are motivated by a desire to help the development of our country, not only through the CSR projects we have been undertaking over our nearly 80 years of operation, but also through developing products that can succeed in the regional and international markets, and that can make Sierra Leoneans proud that our products are being sought after regionally, and eventually all around the world”. Already, their beverages are found across West Africa, and even in countries like Ivory Coast there is demand for Shankerdas’ Sierra Leonean products and hopefully in early 2019, “we expect to be an FDA-certified company, and so we are hopeful that our products could even be in the USA in due course”