Pankaj Poddar: Making flexible packaging more sustainable

In his interaction with the WhatPackaging? team in Mumbai, Pankaj Poddar, chief executive officer, Cosmo Films highlighted the sustainable factor is flexible packaging. Poddar mentioned the awareness among brands about “shifting to single-material/family structures for ease and cost of recycling; as well as a shift to monolayer packaging and therefore use of less packaging; and deploying compostable material and bio plastics. Excerpts from the interview

11 Sep 2019 | By WhatPackaging? Team

(l) Pankaj Poddar: "Like sustainability of environment, there is sustainability of companies as well"

WhatPackaging?: Cosmo has launched a new range of BOPP films. What has been the response?

Pankaj Poddar: We are working with a lot of brands to address their sustainability goals. We are doing this by offering homogeneous film structures for packages where traditionally heterogeneous structures were used. In doing this, we faced three main challenges which we were able to address with the new range of films.

WP?: What type of challenges?

PP: First was the heat resistance of BOPP films as they have a tendency to shrink. We introduced a heat resistant variety of BOPP film. We have further iterated on the first version to take the heat resistance even higher. This was an unmet need for decades. 

Second, we addressed the oxygen barrier properties which BOPP/CPP films generally miss. Although such films were available in the market, what the team at Cosmo Films has done is created a detailed portfolio of barrier films so that there is a film for every requirement. This helps the brands to implement a cost effective solution rather than going for an over-engineered one.

Third, was with large pack sizes where BOPP posed certain challenges and brands were seeking to move to heterogeneous structures. We have introduced a CPP film with a high seal strength so they can handle more weight.

WP?: When you say homogeneous structures, how different are they?

PP: In multi-layered packaging, when all the layers are polypropylene based, we call it a homogenous structure. Even a structure which is polypropylene and polyethylene based is largely homogeneous as both belong to the polyolefins family. Homogeneous structures offer a better value realisation for recycling. This increases the recycling rates as waste fetches a higher value.

WP?: Any example of such usage?

PP: Milk pouches is a good example as its entirely polyethylene based, similarly PET bottles which have a high rate of recycling as the material can be recovered completely. Flexibles also need to move in this direction to become much more sustainable.

WP?:  What type of conversations are the brands are having with you? What are they seeking?

PP: The biggest challenge that brands are going through is making the film structures sustainable while keeping the costs low. This is the question which the big brands are asking us today. Apart from this, brands look for new cost optimisation opportunities; improving shelf appeal, sealing strength, and printability.

WP?: Big brands are getting serious about sustainability, but what about the mid-sized brands?

PP: Right now the global brands are taking the lead. I feel, they should set an example for the rest. Once something gets tested, tried and commercialised the next set of brands will also jump in. Once the large and mid-size brands get aligned, the rest of the industry will follow.

WP?: Are there any lessons based on your knowledge and experience in implementing sustainable solutions?

PP: Like sustainability of environment, there is sustainability of companies as well. Similar to the automotive sector which incurred huge investment costs moving from Euro 3 to 4 and then to 6. This meant, old assets became redundant. Likewise the plastics industry has many concerns; and manufacturers want to derive value out of their investments before changing over.

WP?: What are the new expansions at the Cosmo factories?

PP: As we had run out of space in our current factories, we acquired a sizeable parcel of land both in Aurangabad and Baroda. We were fortunate enough to procure them adjacent to our current premises. We have invested in assets that add value to our products such as a coating line and synthetic paper.

WP?: Are these sustainable projects?

PP: Oh yes. On the sustainability front, we have added a new CPP line. We are also modifying our existing line to produce new film structures which are more sustainable. 

WP?: What is the future focus on R&D and investments in this area?

PP: We have created a new building for the R&D team in Aurangabad. Our R&D team and labs were spread across. Now we are consolidating them under one roof. We have a sizeable R&D team with 15 scientists at present. Our target is to have at least a team of 30 in the next two years.

WP?: Have you applied for patents?

PP: We are always in two minds whether we should apply a patent or not, as there are advantages and disadvantages of both. So when we launched the first version of heat resistant film, we did not apply for patent. The second version of heat resistant BOPP film which we are launching now, we have applied for a patent. Similarly for a CPP film which fulfills multiple needs at the same time, we have applied for a patent.

WP?: What is the technology to invest for the future. What's your take on BOPP and do you see it being one?

PP: Personally I feel, polypropylene is one of the better material as it serves all needs. Be it: cost, recyclability, shelf appeal, light weight as well as less power. Polyethylene which belongs to the same family is also a very good material. As such, there are about 15 types of plastic and what I think is in times to come, the choice will be mono-material using just one grade which is best suited for the application. In my view, polypropylene and polyethylene will get the biggest advantage out of this race for sustainability.

WP?: What is transpiring on the ground? Where is the F&B and FMCG industry headed?

PP: There are mixed reactions, some brands say, they continue to do well; while others share their concerns about growth not being in line with expectations. In general the business environment does not seem as bullish as earlier. But we continue to be the fastest growing economy in the world. Plus the government has announced some new initiatives.  

Two new products from Cosmo

Heat Resistant BOPP Films:
 In order to design mono material laminate structures, PET needed to be replaced with BOPP in the outer printing layer. The challenge the team at Cosmo Films faced was high shrinkage of the film at high sealing temperatures. A company spokesman said, “We overcame the challenge by introducing BOPP based heat resistant films which are clear, non-heat sealable and provide excellent printability. These new films are well suited for both - adhesive as well as extrusion lamination. Cosmo Films has launched a barrier version of the film as well, which has oxygen barrier properties and good grease resistance that comes in handy for oily snack food packaging. The company has also launched three variations to the HR BOPP film, one of which can take sealing temperatures as high as 190 degree celsius.

High Seal Strength CPP Films: In order to achieve recyclable structures for packages which require high seal strength, Cosmo Films has recently designed CPP film where heat seal strength can go up to 2.5 kg/inch. The film also exhibits high barrier properties and can be used for two ply structures with printable BOPP film as the other layer. The film also exhibits high metal bond and works well even for extrusion lamination process.

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