Is there a “green gap” between what the plastic packaging industry talks about, and the rest of society? For example, the packaging industry uses terms such as “biodegradable” and “circular economy”. And is there any packaging case-study that is attempting to bridge this knowledge gap?
The plastic packaging industry has lived, and is still living, due to its nature of being low cost. Needless to say, the lack of circularity in nature of businesses since earlier times, including packaging, has seriously damaged the planet, its natural resources, and is today a matter of global concern to oceans and all other biodiversity and life on the planet.
Rising concerns of overall pollution levels, the health of the planet, and an urgent need of taking responsibility for larger companies, have now lead to creation of policies such as Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), where companies that have been following a linear profit-production-dispose cycle, are now trying to move towards planet-friendly strategies in production and operation cycles.
And through EPR, companies are trying to meet the needs of being circular and not linear. Examples of some companies that are now trying to adopt circularity through EPR are - Tetra Pak, Hindustan Unilever, Coca-Cola, to name a few, where these companies are buying back the non-biodegradable/plastic packaging that they generate and are recycling it.
What is circularity or Circular Economy and how are businesses supposed to adopt this into their existing model? And why is the packaging industry in maximum need of it?
The true meaning or essence of circularity is that it begins right from the source. Circularity cannot come forth without producer responsibility, which means a business owner becomes responsible right at the beginning, before even he/she launches their product into the market.
Businesses have responsibility towards the land, the communities that they source their material and labour from. In the history of industrialisation, no businesses have been held responsible for their impact caused on micro-ecosystems that they source from.
Circularity in principle follows the classic social enterprise model, which is people, planet and profits, where a product and all its parts are reused and recycled back into the ecosystem and doesn't end up in a landfill or a water body, polluting it. Young entrepreneurs are certainly looking very strongly at business models that are more socially responsible in nature and the shift is taking place slowly where there are companies moving in the direction of responsible entrepreneurship and circular economy.
The most widely known example where a company has successfully implemented the circular economy model is Tetra Pak. Tetra Pak has successfully implemented EPR by buying back their own used packs and innovating them into usable finished recyclced items and is bringing them back into the market. Now, Tetra Pak is moving a step further and is working towards removing the aluminium layer with a fibre layer; this would mean the packs would become biodegradable in the future.
Besides the “green gap”, since eco-friendly/sustainable are the words being used to market and position oneself as planet friendly. Given the rising concerns of consumers and them opting for sustainable options as well, there are certainly many companies that claim to be circular or claim to use sustainable/recycled packaging. However, they are not really practicing the same, 100%. The current policy framework does not have strict enough laws against greenwashing.
In order to completely eradicate the green gap, there would certainly have to be policy changes and strict implementation. Lack of availability of adequate research and innovation and the need to be cost efficient is also a hurdle in the path of eradicating the green gap.
However, the future of sustainable packaging looks bright. Single-use plastic is on a complete legal ban in the upcoming days in India, which would mean companies must comply with EPR and their plastic disclosure. This also means there is scope for innovation to alternate sustainable means of packaging.
The good news is there are inspiring individuals, entrepreneurs and companies that have come forward to solve the problem of sustainable and circular packaging for all kinds of perishable and non-perishable products.
Under sustainable packaging, there would be two categories - one that works on recycling plastics and non-biodegradable materials that saves all these materials from reaching landfills and ocean and bring it back to the whole production-packaging-recycling cycle, and the other that are looking at plant-based innovations in packaging that are 100% biodegradable. In the coming days, the need to completely eradicate all plastics is very high given the lack of circularity in the nature of plastics.
Here are some companies that can be referred to as successful case studies.
- Ecoware: Ecoware is one of the most inspiring brands in the sustainable packaging industry that was founded by Rhea Mazumdar Singal in 2010. They convert common crop waste into sustainable alternatives to single-use plastics, which have caused untold damage to the environment and adversely impact human health. 100% of their revenue is derived by applying principles of a circular economy.
- Paapco Greenware: Paapco was launched by Anil Agarwal in 2010 as a solution to single use plastic.
- Origin BioPack: Origin Biopack has led the way in large scale sustainable packaging using hi-end technology and applying the principles of circular bio-economy, where the materials used are both renewable and are recycled.
These are a few examples, currently. Innovations in the area of sustainable packaging are reaching new heights and different materials right from stone slurry to plant waste, to glass, and many other materials are being explored as a long-term solution to sustainable packaging. This is a positive trend certainly, as the need as well as the opportunity in the field of sustainability looks bright.
The pandemic has set in a wave of uncertainty of in-person retail, making the unboxing experience a fundamental way for brands to connect with their audience and build a mindful relationship.
This relationship at most instances pivots around the environmental sanctity the brand abides by.
As a creative and brand strategist, we await to explore an opportunity that is functional, scalable and affordable and strongly advocate the use of sustainable, planet-friendly packaging. It’s honestly way beyond time we realise the impact of our greedy urges on the planet and must find ways to heal it. It’s time to invest in the earth - it’s our only option and we are certain to move towards creative and sustainable packaging options, soon.