Respack: Top brands confabulate about sustainability

A panel discussion that concluded day one of Respack advocates a holistic approach to sustainability. The seven members on the panel suggested the creation of an integrated platform that connects manufacturers, converters, brand owners, recyclers and consumers that can share know how.

14 Jun 2024 | By Abhay Avadhani

The final session on day one of Respack was a panel discussion that discussed the challenges about responsible packaging and the consumer insights and challenges for the packaging industry. The session was chaired by Swarn Singh Grover, the director R&D, Kellogg's South Asia who are part of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation for creating a circular economy. At the outset, he mentioned how food and FMCG brands are moving from conventional material to sustainable material, and how this increases the cost of the packaging. He said, today's consumer seeks sustainable packs, along with convenience plus packaging with smart features.

Nitin Agarwal, chief strategic officer at Pashupati said, "Today's consumer is aware and this awareness has been on the rise in the past decade. The new generation is selective and seeks sustainable packaging. Agarwal said, "Balancing quantity and cost challenges for recyclers is essential. Purchase price and cost is discussed, but we must acknowledge the cost to the environment. Covering restoration and recycling costs is crucial."

Ayaz Kagzi, the technology leader at Pidilite concurred with Agarwal when he said "Consumers love sustainable packaging, and green packaging." Kagzi felt sustainable has to be smart.

Kagzi and other panelists felt sustainable packaging should be smart resource-wise as well as smart cost-wise. As Sanjay Gupta of DS Foods said, "The consumers want to breathe, consumers want to see a healthy tomorrow."

Two points that came up for discussion again and again was how to scale up responsible packaging as a business model; and how can brands achieve a financial tipping point for a positive financial delta? "Cost is what this industry needs to work on!"

Sandip Uthale, group packaging development manager at Marico shared a brief overview of the packaging product development over the past few decades from metal and glass packaging to rigid flexible packaging. He said this was because there was "consumer demand". Uthale proceeded to speak about specific packaging projects like caps and closures and how the green quotient was optimised. 

Uthale alluded to the sachet revolution in India, and how the sachet became a metaphor for small pack size and an answer to the aspirations of those at the bottom of the pyramid. As a result, a brand that launched a small pack for Rs 10 price point managed to win middle India and net Rs 200-crore. But the question in the minds of the Respack delegates was, how sustainable is a sachet in terms of sustainable packaging in terms of collection; and is it conducive for mechanical and chemical waste processing.

Shilpa Surve who is the head of packaging at Colgate-Palmolive said, today's consumers know what they are buying and they are "very attentive" about eco-friendly claims or any form of greenwashing. She said, information about labels are carefully studied in order to understand what brand claims. As a result, FMCG companies are careful about what they print on the labels and packaging collateral.

Surve highlighted the need for greater transparency as well as sharing data about planet-smart initiatives. She shared how Colgate reduced plastic with recyclable toothpaste tubes through light-weighting with a new packaging material which was a multi-layer mono-material manufactured from HDPE.

Ayaz Kagzi shared a Pidilite case-study about collecting back the 15 litre and 50 litre drums from consumers and what were the ground-level challenges. He mentioned how the project was not a huge success even though the brand had incentivised the buyback and streamlined the collection system. He said the project was an eye opener and these are the granular on-ground realities which need to be understood and addressed by law makers. For example, what is the current practice about reuse of a drum versus recyclability. 

This sentiment was echoed by the panel members that they welcome sustainable policy. However the recycling metrics are not in-sync with consumer behaviour.

There was consensus among the panel members that there is a class which is willing to spend but it is incumbent on the brands to provide responsible packaging solutions. Swarn Singh Grover said, it's become important for all the stakeholders to coordinate among each other, otherwise the policy will never be in-sync. 

Sanjay Gupta said, "The cost of consensus is top priority, especially as consumption will increase and we will produce many more goods and many more materials." He mooted the idea of a ministry of packaging which is in-sync with the values of the responsible packaging.

The panel discussion concluded with Juhi Gupta who is sustainability director at Tetra Pak who highlighted the importance of plastic waste segregation. She asked for a show of hands among the Respack delegates and only 10% said they do dry and wet waste segregation in their respective homes. Gupta spoke about Tetra Pak's Go Green programme. This has ensured last mile collection of cartons and how the packaging major has collected 70-million cartons thus far from a three year old to a 90 year old senior citizen. As a part of its Go Green programme, the company created classroom furniture made from recycled beverage cartons. Gupta spotlighted the importance of creating a decentralised and sustainable waste management solution, as well as creating awareness among suppliers to customers, distribution network, employees, consumer and civil society.

The last word belonged to Nitin Agarwal of Pashupati who warned the delegates about over-simplifying the problem of plastic recyclability. He mentioned how (and why) as a recycler there are innumerable challenges like multiple polymers in the same packaging material and over-engineering in terms of formulations. Nitin Agarwal shared insights about the waste collection system in a country like India; and how one needs smart waste collection and greater awareness about how to design responsible packaging.

At the end of the panel discussion, the message was crystal clear. The plastic recycling industry is under-performing. Very low percent of plastic waste ever produced is being recycled. Leaving a majority of all plastic ever produced still out there polluting the planet. The point is, it can be recycled but for that we need a greater push for responsible packaging.

Tags : Respack 2024
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