Maharashtra’s dairies are in a fix over the state government’s insistence about recycling of plastic pouches. Earlier this week, state’s Minister for Environment Ramdas Kadam gave the dairies 15 days to fine-tune their plan to buyback pouches. The state government has banned the usage of plastic in all forms and dairies were asked to come up with a plan on how they would be buying back the used pouches. Manufacturers of plastic pouches had announced in December they will stop production and dairies had also announced that they would stop delivering milk in pouches. Kadam had then resolved the problem by promising to extend the timeline for the buy-back plan. However, he refused to give dairies more time. The Indian Express spoke to Vinayakrao Patil, chairman of the Maharashtra Milk Producers and Processors Welfare Association, to understand the situation.
With the minister firm on the buy-back plan, what will be the next step for dairies? Also, why is it so difficult for dairies to come up with a plan?
When the state government announced the plan to ban plastic, dairies were expected to print a buy-back price on their pouches. This price, it was expected, would prod customers to bring back pouches to retail distributors, from where the dairies were to collect and transport them to recyclers. This was part of the extended producer responsibility (ERP) for dairies. There are, however, many roadblocks to this plan.
To start with, even after printing the buyback prices, retail customers did not bring the used pouches back to retailers. Most milk retailers operate out of small premises and storing pouches are difficult for them. Even for dairies, storage and transportation of used pouches present a new hazard, which they are not properly equipped to handle. However, if consumers do not give the pouches back, how can we implement this plan?
We will call a meeting of the association in the next few days where a final decision will be taken.
Are pet bottles or glass bottles a replacement for plastic pouches?
No, neither is feasible for mass consumption both in terms of technology and price. Milk prices will increase by Rs 10-15 per litre if we use glass bottles. Handling and transportation costs will also increase. Similarly, in case of pet bottles, there will be an increase of Rs 4 to 5 per litre, which will hurt both the consumers and the dairies in the long run.
In case of pet bottles, the technology will require heating the bottles and then filling them up with milk. Dairies do not have that technology as of now. So, there is no question of shifting to those options.
How has the presence of out-of-state players like Amul (Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation) and Nandini (Karnataka Milk Federation) affected the working of dairies in Maharashtra?
Players like Amul and Nandini pose many challenges. Governments in those states have extended financial support, including production incentives, directly to farmers time and again. Due to such incentives, their dairies are able to reduce their working cost, something which is not possible for dairies in Maharashtra. Cooperative dairies face the toughest challenge, as they are forced to pay the procurement price decided by the state government, which the private dairies do not have to. Overall, the dairy industry in the state is passing through a tough time and government policies towards it are not conducive.
Recently, Amul had increased the price of packed milk by Rs 2. Most dairies in the state are not able to increase the price of milk as retail sellers are not ready to sell milk at an increased price. The fragmented market has not helped the sector.
What is the present situation of milk procurement in the state?
The drought has taken a severe toll on milk production in the state. On an average, the procurement has fallen by 25 per cent and chances of further correction cannot be ruled out. At present, dairies are paying anything between Rs 25-27 per litre as the procurement price to farmers. Chances of further price rise also cannot be ruled out in Maharashtra.