A look at how some companies in India are ambling towards sustainable packaging and products.
By Srinath Srinivasan
With the new push for sustainable packaging, manufacturers are walking the tightrope trying to find environment friendly and cost-effective alternatives. Tata Starbucks was perhaps one of the first to act on this in India, across its 163 outlets in 10 cities. Over the years, Starbucks has introduced glass serveware for food and beverages consumed in stores, and compostable wooden cutlery, stirrers, paper cups, straws and lids for takeaway orders. But an overhaul of this kind could be an expensive affair.
Best out of waste
Recycling has become a big part of cosmetics, skincare and perfume companies. The Body Shop, for example, encourages customers to return empty plastic packaging in stores for recycling — an initiative currently spread across 40 stores. The brand is also supporting the waste pickers’ community locally by purchasing 250 tonnes of community trade recycled plastic to use in 250 ml haircare bottles, shares Shriti Malhotra, CEO, The Body Shop India.
Using algorithms, Amazon India is working towards reducing the usage of single-use plastics and optimising boxes/recycling. “The plastic currently used in packaging mailers and bubble bags is made of 20% recycled content. Today, less than 7% of packaging at Amazon India Fulfilment Centres includes single-use plastic. We want to eliminate 100% single-use plastic from our supply chain by June 2020,” says Akhil Saxena, VP, customer fulfilment, Amazon India.
Upcoming e-commerce brands find great ROI in making packaging sustainable. Naina Ruhail, co-founder, Vanity Wagon, an online marketplace for natural beauty products, explains, “Only 14% of the plastic packaging is recycled, while a much larger chunk of recyclable/ reusable material comes back in the cycle for use much faster. This, in turn, boosts the ROI.”
Food aggregator Zomato sees this as a new business channel, and has invested in co-developing packaging solutions with other players. A Zomato spokesperson reveals that the company will soon launch an online marketplace, employing a network of suppliers for restaurants to easily procure eco-friendly packaging. These will be 100% naturally biodegradable units, largely consisting of sugarcane bagasse, bamboo, palm leaf and paper solutions.
According to Pradeep Srinivasan, senior research analyst, Euromonitor International, while FMCG majors such as Godrej Consumer Products, PepsiCo, L’Oréal and P&G, among others, have initiated using 100% recyclable, reusable or compostable packaging, the first step should be to reduce the amount of packaging used.
Finding cost-effective and safer alternatives to plastic packaging, without having consumers bear the extra cost, is a challenge few brands are willing to take on. “We eliminated all single-use plastic material from our manufacturing units and replaced it with 100% recyclable paper based compostable packaging material,” says Deepak Chhabra, MD, Tupperware India. “The increased cost of 7% will be absorbed internally; it will not be passed on to the consumer.”
Recycling is another key aspect. According to Srinivasan, brands are trying to increase the use of post-consumer recycled plastic in their packaging. “But, in order to do so, consumers need to make a conscious effort at proper segregation of waste, while brands find innovative ways to ensure post-consumer recycled plastic reaches them.”
This is especially true for products that get distributed to a wide consumer base, and not just confined to restaurants where waste segregation is relatively easier. Tetra Pak’s recycling initiative, Action Alliance for Recycling Beverage Cartons (AARC), has built an ecosystem comprising collection, recycling, roping in NGOs, local government bodies, academic institutions, consumers and brand owners. It covers over 18 states and 23 cities today, in addition to 13 Indian Army locations across Northeast India, which act as collection centres for used cartons.
Investments and technology play a critical role in this. “The cost for the project is shared by the members, and not passed on to consumers. Tetra Pak has also developed new recycling technologies — extracting paper through paper mills or using the entire carton in the form of chipboards that can be used to make things like furniture,” says Praveen Agarwal, CEO – AARC. All Bajaj autos in India now have a back rest and seat made of recycled carton chipboard.
Analysts say that newer brands could look at earning a premium by making packaging sustainable. “They can charge a higher price for such products and tap into the growing environmental friendly, high-income consumer base,” Srinivasan adds.