– By Gaurav Daga
The key concept of sustainable packaging revolves around a circular economy. The concept that increases the longevity of resources minimizes waste and regenerates natural ecosystems. A range of strategies is required to design products for longevity that eases repair and recycling. The circular economy aims to create a sustainable and regenerative system that benefits both the economy and the environment.
The concept of a circular economy is aligned to tackle the triple planetary crisis – climate, biodiversity and pollution. It requires establishing a more sustainable production and consumption model that has become the top priority for businesses across all niches. As more and more consumers are becoming environmentally conscious, businesses are embracing sustainable packaging solutions, closing their doors to non-recyclable waste generation.
To switch to renewable and recyclable business practices, businesses are switching to sustainable packaging material throughout the supply chain. According to a recent market report, India’s sustainable packaging industry is expected to grow at a CAGR of 7.24% between 2023 and 2028. With that being said, it is necessary to analyze the materials that pass the recyclability test basis which certain trends will reshape the sustainable packaging sector.
Understanding sustainable packaging
Sustainability is no longer a marketing jargon. Businesses are developing and using packaging materials and involving increased use of life cycle inventory to reduce the ecological footprint. The significant momentum gained by the circular economy has drawn the attention of packaging giants and the government to respond to concerns associated with packaging waste and its impact on the environment.
As an implementation step, businesses are adopting packaging solutions made from seaweed and plants, honeycomb papers and plant fibres and pulp as an alternative to non-recyclable packaging materials. This significantly reduces environmental waste and improves waste management processes.
Every year, 8 million metric tons of plastic enter the ocean, as per the Ocean Conservancy Survey. This waste is piled on an estimated 150 million metric tons of waste already floating in oceans globally. The increasing use of non-recyclable packaging solutions impacts aquatic life and leads to high carbon emissions. Some progressive countries like Germany, France and the United Kingdom are deploying robust recycling solutions. Moreover, Asian countries like Thailand and India have already imposed a nationwide ban on single-use plastic bags to reduce environmental exposure to plastic waste.
Growth of reverse material substitution
Paperization of consumer packaging has gained massive momentum in the packaging industry. Simply put, the paper has replaced plastics in the packaging of several products. The packaging material has shifted consumer perceptions considering the renewability and recyclability of paper and the recyclability of plastics.
The demand for paper-based packaging is driven by eCommerce growth. It is a natural progression given the consumer perception of using low weight plastic packaging materials and reducing waste generation that helps the industry to meet its recyclability goals. This carries huge potential in terms of recyclability and reducing consumer spending with sustainable materials has helped the brands keep pricing relatively low.
In an effort to reduce carbon footprints, many new-age brands have seaweed packaging that is completely dissolvable, home-compostable and bio-digestible. Growing seaweed does not require any additional land or excess water. In addition, it has opened an avenue of income and livelihood for coastal communities to grow seaweed and process it into a fine packaging material with reduced carbon footprints. New-age brands are opting for these solutions for producing bags for clothes, film for food and as a plastic alternative for other products.
As an alternative to plastic wraps, packaging companies are bringing honeycomb papers for product wrapping. The 100% recyclable and cost-efficient material can save several million metric tonnes of plastic. In addition, these can play a substantial role in saving storage space as the material is produced from high-strength paper and can be compressed without any tear. Many SMEs and large enterprises are using it as an alternative to cut the costs, plastic and carbon.
Barriers to adopting sustainable packaging
Plastic seems inevitable, however, it has been one of the top most environmental concerns for urban consumers. The versatility of plastic use is considered across industries such as packaging, construction, automotive, medical and many others. Furthermore, its durability and cost-effectiveness make it a preferred packaging material over solutions.
Having said that, urban consumers can act in an environmentally responsible way by living sustainably which also involves green behaviours while purchasing a product. However, there are a few barriers to adopting sustainable packaging such as high costs and limited availability of sustainable materials. During the time of inflation or economic slowdown, the high cost of sustainable packaging materials can pose a hurdle for companies implementing sustainable packaging solutions.
Furthermore, inconvenience in usage also proves to be a significant barrier to adopting sustainable packaging solutions. Today’s urban population live with fast-paced lifestyles and they prioritize convenience in their life. Sustainability and environmentalism become secondary concerns for them when it comes to sacrificing their convenience for environment-friendly packaging.
In that scenario, recycling of plastic is the only solution at present. It can be an impactful solution to address the growing problem of plastic waste. Recycling can reduce the amount of plastic waste that ends up in landfills, harming the environment. As a result, it can reduce the need for new plastic production and conserve resources. Furthermore, raising consumer awareness about the impact of plastic waste on the environment can encourage individuals to reduce plastic consumption. Additionally, it can encourage businesses to take steps towards responsible plastic use.
Many strides are being made in switching to sustainable packaging materials in the market. The retail and eCommerce industry has already switched to compostable packaging while food and beverage have switched to compostable wrapping paper. Though people still prioritize convenience and their pockets, businesses need to increase awareness of conserving resources by using recyclable packaging solutions to save natural resources for upcoming generations in the long run.
(Gaurav Daga is the Managing Director at AG Poly Packs)