Sustainability – how serious can we be?

To move from incineration and down-cycling to lateral recycling is going to be tough


When we talk to those setting up new packaging projects, especially in flexible packaging, sustainability is not a priority. When we talk to established packaging companies, economic sustainability, and profitability to sustain growth come before environmental and social sustainability.

It is a complicated and evolutionary road to move from Central Pollution Control Board regulations whereby brand owners have to merely pay for the collection of packaging waste equivalent to what they use. To improve the use of materials and processes that will allow lateral recycling of packaging waste rather than down-cycling is challenging. It requires more than just financial commitment by the brand owners.

Brand owners are compelled to follow the CPC regulations on packaging waste and show their compliance. However, for some brand owners, it merely means that they pay a waste collection agency or company for picking up or procuring packaging waste of an equivalent tonnage to what they use. In many cases, they merely cite the certificates or numbers they are paying for in their compliance documents.

The price of packaging is often a chess match where the packaging buyer and seller try to meet the usually impossible task of price reduction without a reduction in quality or shelf-life. A senior packaging manager tells us that it takes quite a bit of stamina to stand up to the management and explain that the goal of in-house packaging development is not merely cost reduction. But often, this is the easiest thing to monitor or equate with success.

According to him, brand owners must nurture and even invest in their packaging suppliers. One is not only paying for the maintenance of current quality and timeliness. The brand owner is also investing not just in the packaging but also in its research and development to improve the shelf impact and resilience of the packaging in a reasonable period. What is needed from the packaging buying and development department jointly with the supplier is research and development, scalability, and innovation.

Evolution but time-bound change

It means that brand owners need to move beyond the current compliances and scale up the business itself (the consumer product) to where they can afford innovation. Our innovations in packaging themselves need to be scalable also. This requires both collaboration and patience.

It is a necessarily collaborative process for every brand owner and every packaging supplier to be in this relationship. There must be some understanding or agreement on clear sustainability improvement goals. There must be step-by-step safety, health, and environmental goals. And for even this evolutionary process to work, it must be time-bound.

The Covid-19 pandemic led to the country-wide lockdown on 25 March 2020. It will be two years tomorrow as I write this. What have we learned in this time? Maybe the meaning of resilience since small companies like us have had to rely on our resources and the forbearance of our employees as we have struggled to produce our trade platforms.

The print and packaging industries have been fortunate, although the commercial printing industry is still to recover. We have learned more about the digital transformation that affects commercial printing and packaging. Ultimately digital will help print grow in a country where we are still far behind in our paper and print consumption and where digital is a leapfrog technology that will only increase the demand for print in the foreseeable future.

Web analytics show that we now have readership in North America and Europe amongst the 90 countries where our five platforms reach. Our traffic which more than doubled in 2020, has at times gone up by another 50% in 2021. And advertising which had fallen to pieces in 2020 and 2021, has started its return since January 2022.

As the economy approaches real growth with unevenness and shortages a given, we are looking forward to the PrintPack India exhibition in Greater Noida. We are again appointed to produce the Show Daily on all five days of the show from 26 to 30 May 2022.

It is the right time to support our high-impact reporting and authoritative and technical information with some of the best correspondents in the industry. Readers can power Packaging South Asia’s balanced industry journalism and help sustain us by subscribing.

– Naresh Khanna

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