Singh: Shaping a more sustainable packaging landscape

The 31st IAPRI Members' Conference witnessed 62 international participants from 13 countries and 52 from India. Ramu Ramanathan spoke to Dr Jay Singh, professor of the packaging program of the Orfalea College of Business of Cal Poly State University, on the sidelines of the conference at the Four Points Sheraton in Navi Mumbai

13 Jun 2023 | By Ramu Ramanathan

Singh: Tamper-evident packaging, robust design, lab testing, tracking technologies, unique identifiers, transparent processes, collaboration with logistics provider can mitigate risks

Ramu Ramanathan (RR): Interesting to see so many conversations about packing tapes and sealing systems. Also, the return of pigments and resins. There seems to be a lot of ongoing research and exploration in that space. And finally, shipper crates and cartons. The readers of WhatPackaging? will be curious to know what your takeaways were?
Jay Singh (JS):
Packaging regulations and directives are playing a pivotal role in driving transformative changes in the global packaging industry. These regulations are focused on addressing environmental concerns, promoting sustainability, and ensuring the safe handling and disposal of packaging materials. They are driving significant impacts on the industry, including the promotion of sustainable materials like biodegradables and the reduction of single-use plastics.

EPR regulations hold producers accountable for the entire packaging lifecycle, spurring the development of recyclable and reusable packaging. Recycling targets and standards are encouraging better infrastructure and increased recycling rates. Mandatory labeling and information requirements enhance consumer awareness and transparency. Harmonisation efforts are seeking global alignment, fostering a level playing field. Ultimately, these regulations are shaping a more sustainable packaging landscape worldwide, meeting environmental goals and consumer demands.

RR: There is the dilemma of packaging. A major global brand with significant presence in India has 10,000 SKUs and huge demands on usefulness and utility. How can packaging help?
JS:
Considering the prevailing state and federal directives/regulations related to packaging and taking into account the influence of international counterparts, it is advisable to initiate packaging improvement and development efforts.

RR: What more should we be doing?
JS:
It is crucial to acknowledge that Indian consumers have specific expectations regarding FMCG packaging, and India's supply chain and logistics environment possess unique characteristics. Adapting to the challenges inherent in consumer-facing aspects and supply chain requirements is of utmost importance.

RR: Is it possible to de-risk innovation at the research stage? Especially packaging innovation?
JS:
De-risking packaging innovation at the research stage is possible through strategies such as comprehensive research, prototyping and testing, regulatory compliance, collaboration, supply chain considerations, intellectual property protection, and pilot programs with feedback.

These measures help align the innovation with market needs, evaluate functionality and compatibility, ensure regulatory compliance, leverage expertise, optimise the supply chain, safeguard intellectual property, and refine designs based on feedback. While these strategies reduce risks, it's important to remain adaptable and continuously learn to address unforeseen challenges.

RR: Transit losses due to damages and pilferage in transit probably do not receive the attention that it deserves. During your interventions for the research papers, I realised this is your area of specialisation.
JS:
Distribution packaging plays a vital role in reducing losses and pilferage in the supply chain. My focus remains on assisting the industry in developing “fit-for-purpose” distribution packaging. This entails sustainability (packaging materials and designs) and validation of product-package systems via the optimal test methodologies for the anticipated distribution environment.

RR: Are you considering any initiatives in packaging that focus on addressing these issues?
JS:
Strategies such as tamper-evident packaging, robust design, validation of packaging solutions through lab-based testing, tracking technologies, unique identifiers, transparent processes, collaboration with logistics providers, security measures, and employee training can mitigate risks.

Tamper-evident packaging deters unauthorised access, while robust design protects packages during transportation. Tracking technologies and unique identifiers enable real-time monitoring and easy identification. Transparent processes and collaboration ensure accountability. Video surveillance and security measures act as deterrents, and employee training enhances awareness. Implementing these strategies enhances security, traceability, and package integrity, reducing losses and pilferage in the supply chain.

RR:  Secondary/tertiary packaging that helps transport the goods safely are probably not given the same importance as the primary, and is often seen as a 'cost item' by many. What will be your advice to the small and medium manufacturers and brands on changing this?
JS:
Distribution packaging often doesn't receive the same level of attention as primary aka “romance” packaging. However, it plays a critical role in product protection during transit, efficient handling, shelf life preservation, branding and marketing support, regulatory compliance, sustainability promotion, supply chain optimisation, and customer experience enhancement.

Effective distribution packaging safeguards products, enables organised handling, attracts consumers, complies with regulations, promotes eco-friendly practices, improves logistics operations, and contributes to customer satisfaction. To optimise their supply chain, protect products, and create positive brand experiences, businesses should prioritise the development and implementation of effective distribution packaging strategies.

RR: How can recycling make business sense for it to become mainstream, and not remain a hobby project or ESG greenwashing?
JS:
Several successful international packaging recycling businesses can serve as inspiration for India.


Singh: Smart packaging enables real-time tracking, interactive features, and product authentication

RR: Any success stories that you can share which may be relevant for India?
JS:
Terracycle from the United States focuses on recycling hard-to-recycle waste materials, implementing innovative programs and partnerships. Ecoalf in Spain transforms recycled materials, including packaging, into high-quality fashion products. Loop, a global platform, offers products in reusable packaging, creating a closed-loop system to reduce waste. Tomra from Norway provides recycling solutions through reverse vending machines, encouraging consumer participation. Recup in Germany promotes reusable cups for takeaway beverages, reducing single-use plastic waste. While modifications may be needed, these examples demonstrate innovative approaches that can guide the development of packaging recycling businesses in India.

RR: As a business entrepreneur in India said, plastic recycling is not a money-making proposition. Is that the root cause of the problem?
JS:
Plastic waste is a complex problem influenced by both behavioural and resource-related factors. Human behaviour, including consumption habits and improper disposal, contributes to the accumulation of plastic waste. Inadequate waste management infrastructure, limited recycling facilities, and a lack of resources further exacerbate the issue.

RR: More of a behavioural problem, and not a lack-of-resource problem?
JS:
Tackling plastic waste requires a dual approach: promoting behavioural change through awareness campaigns and responsible consumer choices, and investing in infrastructure, recycling facilities, and innovative technologies. By combining these efforts, we can address the behavioural and resource-related challenges, reduce plastic consumption, and foster a circular economy to mitigate the impact of plastic waste.

RR: Is it important to create a plastic waste hierarchy? If we were to launch a coding system to cover the entire lifecycle of packaging from its constituents to its functions and its ability to recycle, what should it be?A coding system based on life cycle assessment (LCA) is the way to go. Do-able?
JS:
A comprehensive and standardised coding system for packaging could include unique codes for material identification, product information, environmental impact, functional attributes, recycling instructions, and supply chain traceability. It would enable easy identification, informed consumer choices, sustainability promotion, appropriate packaging selection, proper recycling, and transparent supply chain management.

The system should be user-friendly and developed through collaboration with industry stakeholders, organisations, and regulatory bodies. Implementing a unified coding system would improve communication, consumer understanding, and efficient packaging management throughout its lifecycle. While fraught with challenges, any standardised initiative leads in the right direction.

RR: Do you think packaging is at times over-engineered?
JS:
Yes, packaging is often over-engineered, with excessive complexity, materials, or features. Reasons include excessive protection, where the packaging has abundant materials and cushioning. Aesthetic considerations lead to over-designing, incorporating non-functional elements. Marketing objectives can result in overly complex packaging to stand out.

Regulatory compliance can also drive over-engineering, even if simpler options exist. Over-engineered packaging increases costs, resource consumption, waste generation, and environmental impact. Striking a balance between functionality, protection, aesthetics, and sustainability is crucial to avoid unnecessary complexity and ensure efficient packaging solutions.

RR: And finally, one technology trend that the packaging fraternity in this part of the world should be keeping an eye out for?
JS:
The packaging industry should keep an eye on smart packaging. Technologies like RFID, NFC, QR codes, and sensors can improve inventory management, supply chain visibility, and consumer experiences. Smart packaging enables real-time tracking, interactive features, and product authentication. Adopting these technologies can bring efficiency, innovation, and convenience to the packaging industry.

The importance of packaging research

Packaging research is crucial for driving the future of the industry through innovation, sustainability, functionality, and addressing emerging challenges. It plays a significant role in shaping the industry by focusing on sustainable solutions, advanced materials and technologies, waste reduction and recycling, consumer engagement, supply chain optimisation, safety and regulatory compliance, and fostering collaboration and knowledge exchange.

By driving advancements in these areas, packaging research enables the development of efficient, environmentally conscious, and consumer-centric packaging solutions that meet evolving needs and contribute to a sustainable and efficient packaging ecosystem. Collaboration, partnerships, and knowledge exchange among stakeholders are essential for driving innovation and addressing complex challenges collectively.

Latest Poll

The packaging industry is confused by recycling and sustainability rules in India. What is the biggest challenge?

Results

The packaging industry is confused by recycling and sustainability rules in India. What is the biggest challenge?

Shortcomings in EPR policy

 

21.05%

Inadequate infrastructure

 

10.53%

Shortage of recycling firms

 

21.05%

Lack of consumer awareness

 

47.37%

Total Votes : 19

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