“We must find ways to decouple economic prosperity from damage to environment”

In April this year, Dr David Clark, vice president - sustainability, Amcor USA visited India to examine the new Bharuch plant and deliver a keynote address at IFCA seminar. In conversation with Ramu Ramanathan, Clark talks about multi-layer plastic, innovations, and EPR models

21 Jun 2019 | By Ramu Ramanathan

Dr David Clark, vice president - sustainability, Amcor USA

Amcor has announced a sustainability pledge for 2025 – to make packaging recyclable, reusable. What are the methods in place to reach these goals?
Through work with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and other groups, we’ve learned that one of the reasons multi-layer flexible plastic packaging (MLP) is not recycled today is because it’s sometimes made from different types of plastic and foils that are not compatible for recycling. If the materials can be harmonised so they are compatible, it unlocks one of the key barriers to more recycling. At Amcor, we are working with our customers to evaluate which packaging material is technically recyclable today. For those that are not, we’re developing roadmaps to transition those packages to materials and designs that can be recycled. In some cases, the path is well understood, and in other cases, we’ll need innovation among Amcor, our suppliers, and our customers to achieve our goals.

How can end-user companies implement recyclability into the design of laminated pouches? In the last 12 months, we’ve seen examples of mono-material packaging being introduced. How many applications can such a solution cover in an attempt to make packaging recyclable?
There is a lot of discussions right now about MLPs being not recyclable, and the answer being mono-material packaging. It is possible to make MLPs with layers of the same material family, or with layers of compatible materials. In Europe, the CEFLEX project and the New Plastics Economy Project Barrier are bringing together material suppliers, converters, brand owners, and recyclers to develop specifications for high-barrier multi-layer pouches that can be recycled. Those specifications are harmonising on polyolefins, PE and PP, as the base materials and allowing for small amounts of other materials that don’t disrupt the recycling process. MLPs have evolved over the past 10-15 years to be highly efficient, high-barrier, high-performance packaging. Coming close to the same performance with materials compatible with recycling will require some innovation and a change in how we think about packaging design. However,  I’m hopeful we’ll be able to address most applications and make a big impact on enabling recycling of MLPs and keeping them out of the environment.

Any shift in current price practice in India encounters a resistance; especially if it costs more. Is legislation the only driver that can push the end-user companies to look at sustainability?
The consumer packaged goods market is price sensitive everywhere, and I’ve learned that this is especially true in India. Some leading companies are moving to recyclable and more sustainable packaging as part of their commitment to the environment. So, there are other drivers that help when the packaging may cost more in the short term until new technologies are more available and economies of scale are reached. The legislation is certainly a powerful driver to compel the industry to change, but not the only one. Around the world we see some markets using incentives such as grants or market development payments to encourage more sustainable packaging. Some products are marketed to green consumers, who are willing to pay a bit more for products and packaging with sustainability benefits, this is still a small niche but is growing. We hope we can help move industry, consumers, and governments toward solutions to plastic pollution that benefit the economy, people, and the environment without having to rely only on the blunt force of legislation.

One of the sustainable packaging trends seems to be designing out plastic – minimising the material usage right at the design stage. Any innovations from Amcor India?
Using plastics or any material efficiently – that is using the right amount to do the job required but no more – is a key part of Amcor’s sustainability strategy. Packaging plays an important role in protecting products, keeping them safe for consumers, and reducing waste. If we use too little material or the wrong materials, the packaging could fail. By using the minimum amount required of the best materials for the job, we can reduce cost, reduce carbon footprint, and other environmental impacts, and reduce the total waste from the product/packaging system. Because of the price sensitivity of the Indian market, and the difficult distribution routes and climate, I’ve been very impressed by the innovations of the Amcor India team for developing efficient packaging that minimises the amount of materials used but meets high-performance requirements. For example, Amcor India team has provided MLP-based solutions to replace the current non-recyclable packaging used for detergent powder and bars, tea, pickles, chutneys, chemical packages, etc. Further work is on to find solutions for high barrier applications such as coffee, ketchup, shampoo, etc.

Amcor’s new AmLite laminate promises to reduce a pack’s carbon footprint by 64%

Amcor Amlite is a high-barrier metal-free package

Amcor has launched AmLite Ultra Recyclable, its first packaging product made from the company’s high-barrier OPP film that the company announced last year. The new high-barrier laminate can be recycled in existing polyolefin recycling streams.
AmLite Ultra Recyclable is the latest addition to Amcor’s AmLite product line, which was first created in 2015 to provide metal-free barrier packaging that reduced packaging’s carbon footprint.

Luca Zerbini, vice president of marketing, innovation, and sustainability at Amcor, said, “Our recyclable laminate delivers high-barrier protection, can be used on our customers’ filling machines, and can be recycled where polyolefin collection and recycling streams exist.”

AmLite can be used for a variety of formats, such as pillow pouches, stand-up and spouted pouches; bags; lidding for trays and containers; stick packs and more.

AmLite achieves a reduced carbon footprint by using an ultra-thin, transparent barrier coating to replace aluminium and metallised barriers. That change, combined with recyclability, can reduce a pack’s carbon footprint by up to 64% in a cradle-to-grave comparison between a foil laminate PET12 / Alu8/ PE75 and OPP20 AmLite / PE 70, the latter is 100% recyclable, according to Amcor.

AmLite Ultra Recyclable and AmLite Standard Recyclable are the first couple of laminates in the AmLite product range to offer recyclability, adding two products to Amcor’s portfolio. AmLite Standard Recyclable, which provides medium- to high-barrier protection for ambient applications, is already on supermarket shelves thanks to some early adopter brands. AmLite Ultra Recyclable is now available for broader customer trials.

According to Amcor, the package is certified by cyclos-HTP Institute, an independent testing lab, to validate recyclability in real conditions.


While almost every Indian state has banned plastic bags, four Indian states have implemented a ban on single-use plastic packaging – Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Himachal Pradesh and Telangana. Should multi-layer plastic laminates fall under the definition of single-use plastic packaging?
In many cases today single-use plastic is still not well defined. Packaging plays an important role in protecting people by keeping food and other products safe and fresh and reducing damage, spoilage, and waste. Although consumers may only interact with it for a short time, packaging has often been doing its job for weeks or months. It’s not the same single-use as a shopping bag or drinking straw. If plastic packaging is collected and recycled, it can play an important role in reducing environmental impacts and providing economic opportunities. Whether a plastic item is multi-layer should not be the only criteria to decide if it is single-use or even if it is recyclable. If a multilayer plastic package is made from compatible materials, it can be recycled when the right collection systems and recycling processes are in place. Simply banning plastic packaging because it is multilayer, without considering recyclability, avoids the opportunity to create the collection and recycling systems that would benefit the environment and the economy. Bans would replace highly efficient plastic packaging with other materials that would be heavier, have a higher carbon footprint, and might not perform as well. Innovating to make MLPs recyclable, and ensuring they are actually collected and recycled, would be a much more elegant solution than bans that would likely have unintended negative consequences.

Clearly, a blanket ban doesn’t work. Recycling seems to be the most favourable solution.
Recycling is the most favourable solution for most packaging today. There are some examples of reuse as well, where the same package is returned, cleaned, and refilled. This is more common for beverages but less so for other products. Today many companies are evaluating where reuse might make sense from an economic and environmental perspective, but for most products and packaging today recycling is a better solution versus trying to return each packaging to its origin.

But who pays for recycling?
We’ve seen that for many materials, and in particular, for flexible plastic packaging, the cost to collect and recycle it is usually higher than the value of the end product. Some outside funding is needed to support the collectors and recyclers. That funding can come in the form of government support, or from industry support through programmes like EPR.

What is an ideal EPR model for a country like India?
There are many different models around the world, and some work better than others. In my opinion, the best models are designed to cover costs of collecting and recycling - packaging, minus the value of end material. If a producer's responsibility programme is to be the solution for funding, fees should be properly assessed and modulated to facilitate recycling and not imposed as a packaging tax or plastic tax. The programme should provide incentives to create packaging that is easier to recycle and results in higher-value materials. A well-designed programme should create a level playing field for all materials and producers, and not target specific materials. There should also be incentives for brand owners and others across the value chain to work closely with recyclers to improve efficiency, increase convenience for consumers, and reduce the total cost of the recycling programme over time.

Have we as an industry understood what circular economy is?
Our industry is very broad, and the level of understanding varies a lot depending on who I talk with but I think it’s increasing rapidly. Our industry has done a great job over the last 20 years of developing new packaging that is lighter, more cost-effective, uses fewer resources, and does a better job of protecting products. However, until recently, we didn’t think a lot about what happens to our packaging after it’s used. Many of us were content that because the package was so efficient it was alright that it would become waste, but now that has changed.

In your opinion, what are the challenges in implementing a circular economy?
For plastic packaging, the first challenge is to make all our packaging recyclable, across industries, if we’re to make this transformation. Then to put a real circular process in place we require participation and support from not only recyclers but also from resin companies, brand owners, retailers, consumers, and governments. 

It’s a complex problem that doesn’t have a simple solution. But the good news is that most of the parts we need to put together already exist in other parts of the world. We just need to find a way to put them together in a way that works for local circumstances and culture.

Team Amcor and Unilever at the inauguration of the new plant​

How do we do that?
Many people equate sustainability and circular economy with using less, and recycling what we do use. There are several other aspects of circular economy, like the sharing economy and the transition from goods to services that also have social and environmental benefits and are being explored. We must find ways to decouple economic prosperity from damage to our natural resources and environment. Helping people to be fulfilled and prosperous while also allowing nature to flourish is the ultimate goal.

How can barrier coatings play a role?
Barriers and barrier coatings play an important role in protecting products. Some of them today are not recyclable or will reduce the quality of materials if they are recycled. Amcor’s new Amlite product is an example of a high-barrier package that is compatible with recycling. The metal barrier layer has been replaced so the package is now metal-free, with similar barrier performance in a fully recyclable package that can be adapted for various applications.

How about bioplastics?
This is a hot topic that we are watching very closely. Bioplastics fall into a number of categories. One is bio-based, or renewably-sourced plastics. These are often made from agricultural products like corn or sugarcane. Some, like bio-based PET and bio-based PE are the same as conventional plastics in that they do not biodegrade. Another category of bioplastics are biodegradable or compostable plastics. There is a lot of interest in renewably-sourced plastics to decouple plastics from petroleum use. These are mostly still early-stage, and while there may be environmental benefits the material source alone doesn’t have much impact on reducing plastic waste in the environment. The life cycle assessments I’ve seen vary quite a bit when measuring the environmental impacts or benefits of today’s renewable sources plastics. At this point, recycled plastics have a much clearer benefit in terms of both LCA and reducing plastic waste.

And compostable plastics?
Compostable plastics today require an industrial compost setting to decompose. Unless the packages are collected separately and sent to a compost facility, they’re not necessarily going to decompose in nature and there is a risk they could contaminate the recycling streams if they become mixed with conventional plastics. We see good potential in applications where they can be kept separated and good composting systems exist, for example at food service venues. There are a few other materials either on the market or entering the market that claim to be fully biodegradable and suitable for packaging. Some may be suitable for applications like carrier bags but might not be applicable for high-performance packaging applications. There is a lot of innovation going on this area, so the situation may change over time. The other question we need to explore is if new technologies come to market that enables biodegradable packaging, then how do we ensure they don’t contaminate the rest of the plastics that are being recycled and how do we ensure we don’t encourage consumers to litter because they believe the packaging will disappear? Even if the packaging were biodegradable we should not burden nature with the task of absorbing our waste when it could be recovered for better uses and reduce environmental impacts.

Amcor’s latest plant in India has deployed an innovative working model to cater to HUL pan-India. How does it work and what makes it sustainably efficient?
The site brings new-technology flexographic printing to the Indian market and will be a centre of excellence for product development and sustainable packaging solutions. The Bharuch plant is an example of Amcor’s broad, global environmental programme, which has set targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and energy and water use for the company’s 200 locations around the world. The local Amcor team intends to have the site certified for sending zero waste-to-disposal. The hub will enhance the capabilities Hindustan Unilver and Amcor to further delight consumers with market leading, more sustainable and innovative packaging solutions. 

Both the companies have committed to making all their packaging recyclable or reusable by 2025, to increase the use of recycled content in plastic packaging, and work with others to drive up recycling rates around the world.

The 8,000 sqm plant in Bharuch has three lines  will run 24 hours a day


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