Tetra Pak: Sustainability is at the heart of everything - The Noel D'Cunha Sunday Column

The best bet for a sustainable future is a circular economy. But today only 8 to 9% of the world is circular. How do we change that? What can a food packaging and processing company do? In this conversation, the sustainability manager at Tetra Pak, Kamlesh Kholiya talks about the company's approach. Read more in this Sunday Column

05 Feb 2023 | By Noel D'Cunha

PrintWeek (PW): What does circular economy mean to your business?  
Kamlesh Kholiya (KK):
A circular economy depends on sustainable recycling value chains, where packaging waste is collected, sorted, and recycled at scale, ideally within the existing systems. To make this work in real life, our approach is to integrate recyclability during the design stage itself, simplifying the material structure and increasing the share of fibre content.

PW: How does Tetra Pak achieve this, and reap the benefits…
: Continuous investment in innovation is helping us to offer processing solutions which enable reduction in water consumption, carbon footprint and food waste. In addition to this, we offer environmental benchmarking and improvement services so that our customers’ GHG emissions will be reduced significantly, contributing to their own sustainability and climate targets. This also translates into reduced operational costs for our customers. This collaborative approach is driving an acceleration of the development of our low carbon circular packaging and equipment portfolio, thereby helping customers achieve their emission reduction targets.

PW: What are the major challenges you face towards the transition to a circular economy?
: At Tetra Pak, we look at the complete life cycle of the product and work towards minimising its impact on the environment at each step. However, there are certain challenges in the ecosystem.

PW: Such as?
In the beverage carton industry, GHG emissions from use-phase of the products account for 49% of the total emission profile. This 49% impact lies with the customer and is operationally beyond our control. In addition to this, 7% of lifecycle of any product is dependent on other stakeholders such as municipal bodies, consumers etc. While the percentage impact is merely 7%, nurturing an entire ecosystem to minimise this reduction is extremely difficult.

PW: In what way?
Being at the intersection of product innovation and sustainable solutions, we continue to source the desired material such as plant-based polymer or recycled polymer which is a time-consuming process and may not be easily available.

PW: It is said the road to a circular economy is a long and difficult one and cannot be covered in isolation…
True. Therefore, we are trying to develop technologies that can help customers avoid waste, optimise performance and recover resources as best possible, while also not compromising on product innovation.

PW: As an organisation, how do you approach and inculcate a circular economy as part of your operations and supply chain?
A truly circular economy depends on sustainable recycling value chains, where packaging waste is collected, sorted and recycled at scale, ideally within the existing systems. To make this work in real life, our approach is to integrate recyclability during the design stage itself, simplifying the material structure and increasing the share of fibre content.

PW: How?
We look at the entire life cycle impact that our packaging has. To achieve this, we are focusing on four areas which include - acting for nature, acting for climate, acting for people/communities and driving circular solutions.

PW: Can you elaborate?
We take action on mitigating climate change by decarbonising our operations, products, and our value chain. In 2021, we reduced our operational footprint GHG emissions (scopes 1, 2 and business travel) by 36% compared to our 2019 baseline2 and we plan to continue that progress.

PW: What about circular solutions?
In terms of circular solutions, we do so by designing recyclable liquid food packaging, using recycled and renewable materials, and expanding the collection and recycling in order to keep materials in use and out of landfills. In 2021, we invested euro 40-million in collection and recycling infrastructure contributing to 50-billion cartons being collected and sent to recycler. Also, we have several impactful initiatives underway for nature such as responsible sourcing practices, strategic partnerships to conserve and restore biodiversity, mitigate and adapt to climate change and contribute to global water resilience.

PW: Can you please share one example/case study reference towards a circular economy implementation in your organisation?
In India, one of the best examples I can think of is our initiative to reduce the climate impact of our own operations. At our facility in Pune, we have installed a solar power project with a capacity of 2-megawatt. An additional 1-megawatt will be installed which is a step towards meeting our ambition of using 100% renewable electricity at our factories across the world.

PW: This is your Chakan facility?
Yes. In fact the same Chakan facility is also an IGBC Platinum certified site since 2014 (parameters – sustainable site, water conservation, energy conservation, innovation, indoor environmental quality, material conservation). It was the first Tetra Pak site to receive Platinum Green Certification.

PW: How do you see changing regulations across various states in India affect your plans towards a circular economy?
: We don’t think it is going to bring a lot of changes in terms of the work we do. We are pleased that the government has issued EPR guidelines recently and is on its way to make it official.

PW: You are ready for EPR?
Even before this, we have been doing voluntary EPR for more than 18 years now. Because of our early efforts and now industry efforts, over 40% of cartons sold in India are recycled. The collection and recycling network established by us along with the beverage carton industry today covers 26 states and UTs, 15 Indian Army contingents, supported by over 30 collection and awareness partners. We have four recyclers in India to support increasing collections. We are also an active member of AARC (the Action Alliance for Recycling Cartons) which aims to boost collection and recycling of cartons, together with the industry. These changing regulations will only bring us and the entire ecosystem one step closer to the circular economy.

PW: A part of Tetra Pak commitment is to reach net-zero GHG emissions in its operations by 2030? As a company what targets have you set?
As a company and in line with the Paris Accord, we have set a target to be Net Zero on GHG emissions in our own operations by 2030. The interesting thing is, by 2030 we should have reduced emissions by 46% over 2019. Our ambition is to be Net Zero across the entire value chain by 2050.

PW:  How will this impact your factory and ops in Chakan?
We will continue to do what we are good at – protecting food, people and the planet and deliver on our goals to reach net zero GHG emissions.

PW: The F&B packaging market in India is expected to grow from a size of USD33.2 billion in 2020 at a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 9.3% until 2026. In addition, the Indian Institute of Packaging (IIP) calculated that the consumption of packaged foods in India rose by 200% during the previous ten years, from 4.3 kg to 8.6 kg per person per year. Are you ready?
Currently India’s per capita packaging consumption is much lower than the world average. Over the next few years half of India will be urbanised, resulting in a spike in the number of convenience seekers. We have just touched the tip of the iceberg. For example, milk (the biggest category for us in India) in Tetra Pak packages constitutes 2% market share of the packed milk market. The opportunity to innovate is huge and being the market leader, we are all set to provide the cutting edge packaging solutions which can help shape the future of food safety.

PW: In what way is Tetra Pak shaping the future of food and innovation?
: Today, Tetra Pak serves over 200 customers and is adding over 15 customers every year. Tetra Pak’s most advanced manufacturing facilities worldwide is in Chakan, Pune. We continue to increase local production of processing modules and introduce solutions which work in favor of our customers, end consumer and environment.

PW: What about  applications in packaging?
We are among the first companies to pilot connected packaging but also introduce newer packaging mediums such as Tetra Pak Reflect, Tetra Stelo Aseptic, Tetra Brik Aseptic90U (designed especially for an Indian customer) and many other global innovations.

PW: New studies conducted by Tetra Pak have suggested that food producers and manufacturers and consumers alike are struggling to prioritise sustainability efforts in the current socio-political and economic climate. What are the lessons for India? Are food manufacturers struggling to prioritise sustainability?
It will be difficult for us to comment on the work done by other players but we can definitely say that we have a robust recycling ecosystem in place which includes a strong network of collection partners, waste-pickers, recycling partners and NGO partners to ensure that we are putting our best foot forward in achieving our sustainability goals. At Tetra Pak, sustainability is built into the design. So when we talk about our products, we do not believe that innovation and sustainability are mutually exclusive. As we innovate new packages and equipment, the climate impact is built into the design.

PW: For example?
In 2022, we tested a fibre-based barrier to replace the aluminum layer, which is first of its kind in the beverage packaging industry. This innovative fibre-based material aims to reduce the carbon footprint while making the post-consumer cartons more attractive for recyclers.

PW: Any development we must keep an eye on?
: Our development of tethered caps and other integrated drink-from systems, so a better drinking/handling experience while also addressing the issue of litter. Also our development of a low-energy processing line for juice, nectar and still drinks (reducing the energy consumed by up to 67%...and the water consumption used for cleaning-in-place, sterilisation and product change-over is cut up to 50%.)

Kamlesh Kholiya, sustainability manager at Tetra Pak

We have been doing voluntary EPR for more than 18 years now. This is way before the legislation. Over the years, we have built a robust recycling and collection ecosystem through which we are successfully recycling 40% cartons that we sell. Our ecosystem is spread across 26 states and UTs, 15 Indian army contingents and is supported by over 30 collection and awareness partners as well as four recyclers.