Sirohi: Right product at the right time is the key to success

Multinational flexible packaging converter, Constantia Flexibles, strengthened its foothold in the Indian market by setting up a 24,500-sqm Ecoflex plant in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, in 2019. The company has positioned the greenfield project to play a key role in its long-term sustainability strategy. It has dedicated this plant to create recyclable packages under its EcoLam brand.

And to facilitate the demand for this eco-friendly range of products, Constantia has been constantly beefing up its capacity with new polyethylene blown film extruders, flexo printing presses and laminators. The recent investments include a Pentafoil five-layer co-extruded blown film line for POD from Rajoo Engineers, one Comexi F2 flexographic press and two Comexi S2 slitters.

Not only in terms of flexible packaging offerings but also through its manufacturing practices, the converter is leading the way for a greener tomorrow. The company was selected as one of the 50 global companies to take part in TBD Media Group’s international sustainability and climate leaders’ initiative in 2020.

In this conversation with Tony Sirohi, executive vice president at Constantia Flexibles India, Rahul Kumar of WhatPackaging? finds out how the company is showing the way for flexible packaging manufacturers across the globe.

03 Jul 2021 | By Rahul Kumar

Sirohi: The timing of the market evolution is critical to success

Rahul Kumar (RK): What was the driving force behind establishing the Ecoflex plant in Ahmedabad?
Tony Sirohi (TS):
 Our commitment towards a circular economy. The idea was to build a facility dedicated to recyclable packaging. Opening the plant is a key step towards our goal of making our entire packaging portfolio fully recyclable by 2025.

RK: When and how did you decide to set this 2025 goal? 
TS: We made this pledge as part of the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment in 2018, led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in collaboration with the UN Environment Programme. For us, it wasn’t enough for packaging materials to be recycled in theory. We define packaging as recyclable only when it can be collected, sorted, and recycled in an established stream – both in practice and scale.

"As the world’s third-largest flexible packaging producer, we know about our responsibility towards the environment and the consumers. Thus, our goal is to drive a change in the industry with our sustainable packaging offerings." 

- Tony Sirohi, executive vice president, Constantia Flexibles India

RK: This definition is the key to achieve a circular economy?
Absolutely. That’s what circularity is all about — moving to a lifecycle approach that priorities sustainability in the manufacturing and use of materials, its collection, recycling, and eventual return to the production cycle.

RK: What products at Ecoflex enable you to facilitate this goal?
Our EcoLam range of fully recyclable PE laminates. These laminates provide the same level of aesthetics and barrier properties that a conventional non-recyclable multi-layer laminate offers. They suit almost all applications, from moderate to high-barrier. The application range includes dairy, biscuits, noodles, candy, milk powder, coffee, tea, detergents, shampoos, liquid detergents, and oil, among other products.

Constantia's 24,500-sqm Ecoflex Ahmedabad plant

RK: Any such EcoLam application project that you would like to share?
We developed a convenient easy-open sachet for Nuvae Healthcare’s GoSan hand-sanitiser. The partnership was formed to cater to the rising trend of good hand hygiene amid the pandemic. This pocket-friendly sachet pairs a strong heat seal with an easy-tear opening feature, dispensing 70% alcohol-based disinfectant at your fingertips. Our EcoLamPlus laminates proved to be the perfect fit for this project — not only did it have a robust formula that sustains highly volatile products such as alcohol, as it’s a mono-polymer material, it can also be fully recycled. This was one of the first success stories from our Ahmedabad-based facility. The product proved that when a solution is as eco-friendly as user-friendly, you know it’s a winning combination.     

RK: Are we set to see more of such projects in India?
 Sustainability has become a key focus area for Indian brands. However, recyclability has become an even bigger focus area from the end consumer and the brand owner’s perspective. The brands are keen to align themselves to the Plastics Waste Management regulation initiated by the Indian government in 2016, and the extended producer responsibility guidelines. Most of our customers have mid-to-longer term sustainability targets. Our conversations with these brands usually begin with: “What flexible packaging alternatives can you offer?” Our answer, more often than not, is EcoLam.

Constantia developed a recyclable easy-open sachet for Nuvae Healthcare’s GoSan hand-sanitiser

RK: Do you feel this focus area has taken a backseat amid the pandemic? 
It has slowed down a little bit. A lot of sustainable product trials have been delayed as many of our customer factories were affected. And external visits were also prohibited. However, we expect this market to bounce around Q3 2021.

RK: The big brands are getting serious about sustainability, but what about the mid-sized brands?
The big brands are moving faster. However, with the push from the government and the growing environmental awareness, even the smaller and mid-size companies are conscious. They know that they will have to catch up soon.

RK: So, how do you create these fully recyclable laminates?
First, we produce high-barrier PE films from our blown extrusion lines. Then we print these films by gravure or flexo technology. Followed by a custom build lamination process using adhesives or co-extrusion. We are proud to have mastered the art of printing thin-barrier PE films with the same level of aesthetics and barrier as on PET or OPP substrates. 

All about EcoLam

EcoLam is a range of lightweight mono-PE laminates suitable for packaging applications. According to Constantia, due to its mono-material structure, the material is fully recyclable, and its carbon footprint is approximately 32% lower than that of comparable products. The EcoLam family comes in different barrier grades such as EcoLam, EcoLamPlus, and EcoLamHighPlus, which cater to a diverse range of products.

RK: Ecolam defines your sustainability efforts in terms of products. What about manufacturing practices?
We have set an absolute Greenhouse gas emissions reduction target in line with climate science. This will enable us to play our part in the international efforts to limit global temperature rise. Bearing in mind that global challenges can only be met in a common effort, we also foster social and environmental responsibility, and ethical business principles throughout the supply chain, in collaboration with our suppliers.

RK: As you are a global player, is there a perspective barrier between the Indian and the overseas markets?
There is a bit of a gap between developed nations and emerging markets. Consumers in developed countries are more involved in topics related to sustainability. And thus, they push brand owners to create eco-friendly products. This involvement is yet to gain traction in emerging countries. However, with millennials and Gen Z becoming more aware, there is a huge scope for growth.

RK: What role does India play as a strategic location for Constantia?
We have acquired two companies in the recent past (Parikh Packaging and Creative Polypack) and have also expanded our footprint in the country with the Ecoflex plant. This indicates how important the Indian market is for us. The flexible packaging industry is growing at a rapid pace in India. This makes it of strategic importance to any multinational corporation. We will grow organically and inorganically in the future and if there are good consolidation opportunities available as a strategic fit, we will consider them. 

RK: Any lessons based on your knowledge and experience in implementing sustainable solutions?
 With EcoLam, the lesson we have learned throughout the years is that success can only be achieved when your solutions meet the customer needs, designed in collaboration. The timing of the market evolution is critical to success. Being present at the right time with the right product is key.

R&D focus areas at Constantia Flexibles India

  • Recyclable mono-PE and mono-PP laminates
  • Recyclable paper barrier packaging
  • Aluminium packaging (per se recyclable)
  • Biodegradable packaging for special niche applications