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In the spirit of recycling: how Johnnie Walker and Sepoy & Co turn bottles to glass installations and sand

By turning bottles to glass installations, and sand for construction, beverage companies like Johnnie Walker and Sepoy & Co are trying not to add to our piling landfills

A few weeks ago, Diageo — the name behind leading alcohol brands such as Johnnie Walker, Guinness and Smirnoff — released an ad featuring an anxious couple floating in a pod in outer space. Released as part of Johnnie Walker’s ‘Keep Walking’ series, it ends with several such pods descending on to a planet sans humans while a voiceover says, ‘Coming back means reliving everything again like it is the first time’. The ad that ends with ‘the next 200 years are just beginning’ is both symbolic of the year in lockdown and a hint at their upcoming plans to go green. In a recent interview with Campaign India, Nitesh Chhapru, VP at Diageo India, said that by 2021 ‘we will be launching our first 100% plastic-free, paper-based packaging, a first for the premium spirits category’. And now, with the second leg of #WalkInWithJohnnie campaign, the brand is bringing to the fore the rather lesser-known concept of glass recycling in India by including their consumers.

So the next time you empty your bottle of scotch, you needn’t forcefully turn it into yet another planter or feel guilty about binning it. Instead, drop it off at designated bars in exchange for a Striding Man souvenir — something that many, including the likes of actors Jim Sarbh, Kriti Kharbanda, Malaika Arora Khan promoted back in November. The bottles collected so far are being turned into glass installations (of the Striding Man) by artists such as Tyrell Valladares of MetalHead, Mumbai, Romicon Revola and others. Valladares’ 6.5 foot creation — made using 500+ bottles and weighing 150 kg — unveiled at Estella in Mumbai last week, is the first of many permanent installations that will be displayed at select bars in Mumbai, Gurgaon, Hyderabad, Bengaluru and Kolkata. Abhishek Shahabadi, Vice President and Portfolio Head, Premium & Luxury Brands, Diageo India, says, “Over the course of the campaign, we’ve seen 5,000+ walk-ins with empty bottles across 52 bars in 14 cities. The names of all the patrons who have contributed their empty bottles are etched on each of these installations as a celebration of them taking a stance to keep walking.”

The Sepoy collab

In a similar vein, Angad Soni of Sepoy & Co — known for their tonic water and mixers — is all set to launch their Rethink Repurpose campaign on February 1. In collaboration with Udit Singhal’s Glass2Sand initiative, it will first take off in the capital and NCR region. “Over the past two years, we got a number of customer queries on how they could reuse bottles or if there was any return policy. These questions led us to look for a solution,” says Soni, 37, who was introduced to 19-year-old Singhal in August last year.

Tyrell Valladares, Sculptor and proprietor, MetalHead, Mumbai

  • I had a vision to create an illuminated art piece and to bring it to life was definitely a challenge. Not only was breaking the glass time consuming but it was also difficult to get the right size of each piece.
  • It was important to keep the look and feel in line with the creative concept along with controlling the weight of the installation. From conceptualising, research and completion of the entire artwork, it took me approximately 18-20 days to bring alive the life-size Striding Man.

Taking us through the process, Singhal says Sepoy customers can contact them once they have 50 bottles , and this is not limited to just Sepoy’s containers. “These will be either collected by us or can be dropped off at our location for disposal. The bottles are then crushed into high-grade silica sand in under five seconds that can used in construction, as furnace lining, for roads, etc.” In the two years since the launch, close to 14,000 glass bottles have been recycled at Glass2Sand. “We pay ₹2 per kilo to those who deliver the bottles to our facility,” adds Singhal, who sourced his machine from New Zealand. If you wonder why there aren’t more players entering the market, put it down to government policy and pollution control regulations as primary factors. “Recycling units have been forced to move outside New Delhi and this rendered empty glass bottles worthless for rag pickers. A similar scenario exists in other metro cities too. Collection has become unviable too as bottles require large storage spaces and involve high transportation costs,” says Singhal.

Return, don’t dump

He also addresses the rather unorganised recycling system in India, which is perhaps why large manufacturers aren’t installing their own recycling systems. “Here, only large beverage companies like Coca-Cola and Pepsi have a system of reuse. As these empties are handpicked for quality, a majority is dumped back in the landfills. 75% of glass bottles end up in landfills every year in India,” explains Singhal, who was selected as one of 17 Young Leaders for Sustainable Development Goals 2020 by the UN. Currently operational only in New Delhi, he says Mumbai, Bengaluru, Kolkata and Chennai are on his radar.

In the UK…

  • When the folks at Manchester Gin were forced to put their bottle refill initiative on hold due to the pandemic, they decided to launch recycled glass bottles. As per reports, an average of 55% recycled content is in the make-up of each bottle for which the brand will source cullet from bottle banks and kerbside collection schemes throughout the UK. manchestergin.co.uk

Meanwhile, Sepoy & Co’s Soni is hopeful that their campaign over the next few months will give them a better perspective on public response. “We’ve already received requests via social media to launch the initiative in Mumbai and Bengaluru,” he concludes, adding that he now plans to work with the fashion industry to create recycled, branded bags.

To drop off bottles for Sepoy & Co’s campaign, call 9810008289 or visit glass2sand.in

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