For a circular economy, encouragement trumps enforcement

M Nandakumar, principal of Arasan Ganesan Polytechnic College, Sivakasi and recipient of AICTE Visvesvaraya Best Teacher Award talks to WhatPackaging? about sustainable packaging, circular economy, single-use plastics and more…

26 Nov 2021 | By WhatPackaging? Team

Can we replace single-use plastics?
Yes, of course. I recently read an article stating that the researchers at the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru (IISc) have found a way to make a substitute for single-use plastic (SUP) that can, in principle, help mitigate the problem of accumulating plastic waste in the environment. In the research, non-edible castor oil was used in this process of making the polymer which involves allowing them to react with the cellulose (from agriculture stubble) and di-isocyanate compound. So it is quite possible.

Can an Indian institute launch a coding system to identify and classify all packaging which can cover the entire lifecycle of packaging from its constituents to its functions and its ability to recycle? One out of the box suggestion you have ...
Yes, a similar code that exists is UN Packaging Code. The research institutes in India can encourage students to undertake project works related to this and the compilation will be more effective to bring this to life.

Is there a Green Gap between what our industry talks about; and the rest of society? For example, our industry uses terms like “biodegradable” and "circular economy". How can we enlighten society better about the science of green printing?
Motivation, in its best form, is a way for you to want to do something. Motivating a society at large needs rewards. So without which it is hard to achieve. But once self realization is reached there will not be a further need for reward or motivation.

M Nandakumar, principal, Arasan Ganesan Polytechnic College

How should one "realistically" manage the circular economy - and how can our manufacturers and suppliers maintain the sustainability criteria?
We can introduce a carbon credit system for encouraging the manufacturers and suppliers for promoting biodegradable resources or recyclable or reusable resources into their production line. Law enforcement can be an alternative option but I strongly believe encouragement rather than enforcement is the best option.

The automation of the packaging process in e-commerce brings several benefits. Apart from right-sizing packages and saving materials, what is the one thing you wish they teach students to look out for ...
A minimalistic approach will be a good option. Try to eliminate packaging wherever possible. For example, students can research on biodegradable shrink packaging.

Plastic waste entering oceans is expected to triple in 20 years. Current and planned waste-cutting efforts will reduce volume only by about 7%, say researchers. One suggestion you have to save the planet ...
Go biodegradable. Reduce, reuse and recycle.

Do you think packaging is at times over-engineered? 
Not really. Think different, try to eliminate packaging.