Forward-looking businesses across the globe are increasingly becoming concerned about sustainability issues. As climate change threatens to disrupt global supply chains and economies, there is a growing realization that sustainability and profitability should go hand-in-hand.
Responsible businesses conduct a materiality assessment to gain valuable insights on the importance of environmental, social and governance issues amongst their stakeholders. This is the first step toward developing an organization’s sustainability strategy.
In the case of flexible packaging, in spite of its many benefits including ease of transport, durability, increasing the shelf life of products, prevention from contamination, ensuring freshness of products, and several others, there is a global outcry against the industry. Consumer demands, regulatory requirements, and environmental concerns regarding plastic waste are encouraging industry players to make rapid strides in delivering increased levels of sustainability.
Building capacity to upcycle and recycle
Today’s flexible packaging giants are focused on building commercial business models around recycling plastic waste — that on one hand addresses the environmental concerns around plastic waste and on the other, helps create a self-sustaining business. This ensures that recycling and upcycling plastic waste are no more voluntary or CSR efforts but additional revenue streams.
Modern technology is in place to convert post-consumer plastic waste into decorative, functional, engineering parts, household and office products, and hundreds of other articles. Plastic waste bottles are being upcycled to make plastic films, which are being used for food, non-food and pharma applications.
A recent report in a financial daily lauds India’s efforts to recycle plastic waste although we have a long way to go in terms of collection and segregation of plastic waste. More efforts by the Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) to increase the collection of mixed plastic waste and setting up more Materials Recovery Facilities (MRFs) will go a long way in ensuring that plastic waste reaches advanced recycling facilities to find a new life.
Introduction of sustainable bio-degradable flexible packaging
While the flexible packaging industry faces an ongoing challenge of inadequate supply of post- consumer multi-layer mixed plastic waste for recycling, the industry players have made substantial investments in R&D to introduce biodegradable materials in packaging. Combining the latest innovations in packaging technology with the research in biodegradable materials, the flexible packaging industry is doing its bit to reduce the dependence on conventional plastics.
A few companies have already started working on biodegradable packaging materials. Even when thrown away in landfills, these materials will eventually biodegrade and become nutrients for the soil. These newer technologies can convert modern-day flexible packaging material to 100% biomass.
Flexible packaging is environment-friendly in not-so-apparent ways
Flexible packaging requires less energy to manufacture and transport, which reduces greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel usage. Comparatively, materials like glass, rigid PET, and steel boxes commonly used in conventional packaging require large amounts of water and fossil fuels to manufacture. A McKinsey report states that in 5 of 6 categories in flexible packaging, the packaging material made out of plastics had lesser greenhouse gas emissions when compared to its non-plastic alternative.
As flexible packaging is lightweight and requires less storage space, it helps reduce fuel consumption and transportation costs. It offers retailers and manufacturers an opportunity to minimise in-store and logistics costs.
The way ahead
As the global drive for sustainability in business gains speed, flexible packaging solutions continue to deliver on consumer demands and address environmental concerns especially around recycling.
With more investments in waste management infrastructure by governments, urban local bodies, and industry players, use of AI in source segregation, and increase in the use of recycled and biodegradable materials in flexible packaging, the industry is geared to meet the expectations of its stakeholders including consumers, legislatures, shareholders, local communities, and more.
By Jeevaraj Pillai, Joint President – Flexible Packaging Business and New Product Development, UFlex Limited