"Packaging is ubiquitous,” insists industry researcher David Feber. “It touches almost every person on the planet. It affects things that human beings need to survive: food, healthcare, personal care. All of that is packaged."
But if we add the prefix of 'sustainability' to packaging, then it is not so ubiquitous. Agree? Sustainability in packaging is the elephant in the room which every packaging company wants to address. But who is doing this rightly? Many FMCG, pharmaceutical companies and retail sellers are making bold statements & commitments on improving sustainability of their packaging products. While we truly hope that everyone succeeds in doing so, lets ponder over some realistic issues pertaining to packaging waste.
Packaging waste is now a global issue. While part of packaging waste is recycled, most of it isn’t due to lack of adequate facilities, non-affordability in terms of pricing or simply lack of effort. Emerging nations, such as Asia, are under most pressure owing to the low recycling rates. According to a report by McKinsey - "Global leakage or unmanaged dumps of all packaging material flows (both durable and non-durable) is estimated to be around 19 percent, and only 16 percent of all plastic waste is re-processed to make new plastics. In fact, most of the global plastics waste goes into incineration (25%) and landfills (40%), meaning that these materials are lost forever as a resource, despite plastics’ potential for reuse and recycling."
Moving closer home, in India, this data has not been unnoticed by consumers and in-turn by the government (thanks to consumer outcry). In India, the regulatory board is adopting various approaches for reducing packaging waste. While legislation favours recyclable substrates and formats, their next move is to push for increased number of awareness campaigns and collection points.
According to a report by HB Fuller, between 2021 and 2026, India's packaging sector is predicted to grow at a rate of nearly 27%. Growing economy, emergence of India’s middle class, expansion of organised retail, boom of e-commerce and increase in income levels has increased the demand for packaging. More than 49% of the paper produced in India is used for packaging purposes and according to the Indian Institute of Packaging, packaging consumption in India has surged by 200% in the last decade, growing from 4.3 kilograms per person per annum (pppa) to 8.6 kg pppa.
According to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change in India, "The Guidelines provide framework to strengthen circular economy of plastic packaging waste, promote development of new alternatives to plastics and provide further next steps for moving towards sustainable plastic packaging by businesses. Reuse of rigid plastic packaging material has been mandated in the guidelines to reduce the use of fresh plastic material for packaging."
According to industry analysis from (source) McKinsey & Company, there are 5 key trends that are emerging & will shape sustainable packaging and related investable themes over the next few years.
1 - Consumers are fully aware of sustainability issues, with their concerns accelerating, but they remain confused.
2 - With response to public outcry, sustainability regulation for packaging is now both global and increasingly ambitious, but it has become a complex landscape for corporations to navigate (with accelerating consumer sentiment also making it harder for companies to plan reliably).
3 - Across regions there are critical gaps around waste collection, recycling systems, and technology, limiting significant changes in the packaging value chain over the near term.
4 - Many leading fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies and retailers remain committed to transforming their portfolios, but large-scale market adoption of innovations is slow.
5 - Until further notice, plastics are here to stay, with an emerging green premium on the recycled raw material.
Packaging is not going away anytime and that is a universal truth. So ultimately all of the above comes back to us - who do we chose to be first? A marketer or a human. Is our product more important or our planet?
No matter at what scale we produce, we ought to be responsible and mindful about packaging waste and we have got to do the best with the resources available to us.