Going green with eco-friendly packaging 

Sustainable packaging has been consistently gaining acceptance in the packaging industry for a long time now, becoming quite a buzzword in the sector

New data by Trivium Packaging in its 2022 Global Buying Green Report reveals that consumer demand for eco-friendly and sustainable product packaging has proven remarkably stable and robust despite the upheaval of societal changes in recent years. 

The study shows a steady climb in the dedication of younger consumers to sustainable living. Around 86 per cent of those 45 and under said they would be willing to pay more for sustainable packaging. This is up from 83 per cent, comparing the same data set in Trivium’s 2021 report. 

Plastics are still in rampant circulation across India, despite the ban on Single Use Plastics (SUPs). Although the government is rather ambitious about this ban, efforts and investments need to be increased to develop alternatives to SUPs. Creating an organised plastic waste management system and developing an economic and environmental cost-benefit analysis are crucial. 

Indians are motivated to make more mindful choices which has increased the demand for eco-friendly and sustainable packaging in the Indian F&B market. The big names in the industry such as PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Nestle, Kellogg’s, Danone, etc. have been actively eliminating plastic waste at the source and working towards 100 per cent reusable, recyclable, or compostable packaging for their food products. 

A lot of sustainability initiatives are being employed by these companies for their Indian consumers too. The announcement of the successful production of the world’s first food-grade Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottles produced entirely from enzymatically recycled plastic by the Consortium – Carbios, L’Oréal, Nestlé Waters, PepsiCo, and Suntory Beverage & Food Europe has pushed the companies even closer to their sustainability goals. 

Developed by Carbios, a France-based green chemistry company that focuses on discovering and developing enzymatic bioprocesses applied to plastic and textile polymers, the patented enzymatic PET recycling process enables a wide variety of PET plastics to be recycled into virgin quality, food-grade rPET. Together, these brands are working to scale this innovation to help meet the global demand for sustainable packaging solutions. 

Apart from these names, there are plenty of small and medium-sized players making efforts to create sustainable packaging for the F&B industry in India. A variety of new materials have been employed in the space and innovations abound in the industry. 

New materials entering the space 

In June 2022, Corona India, a brand of beer produced by Anheuser Busch InBev launched a new 100 per cent biodegradable and compostable six-pack made from 100 per cent barley straw in India. With circularity at the core of this innovation, Corona works with Barley farmers in India to buy leftover straw that is often the cause of crop burning, a critical issue in North India, to manufacture these 100 per cent biodegradable compostable six-packs. By commercialising barley straw, farmers receive an income for crop waste that otherwise has limited marketable benefits. Corona has worked with Craste, a Pune-headquartered green, sustainable packaging company, to develop this circular and scalable technology. AB InBev and Craste have been working towards developing this technology for more than three years. 

Speaking at the launch, Vineet Sharma, Vice President – Marketing, South Asia, AB InBev said, “Ever since its inception, Corona has been synonymous with the outdoors and has had a deep connection with nature. We believe it is our responsibility to protect and preserve it. After in-depth assessments across our supply chain, we wanted to first start by revamping our packaging and making it sustainable. We are proud to launch the future of packaging which is made from 100 per cent barley waste. This intervention speaks to Corona’s mission of protecting the environment by reducing waste and truly being a globally responsible brand.”

A division of the US-based packaging solutions company TricorBraun, TricorBraun Flex has launched a new fully-compostable, plant-based packaging bag. The high-barrier packaging solution, Biotré 3.0, has been awarded the BPI Certification Mark from the Biodegradable Products Institute and is available for specialty food and snacks, coffee, pet treats, and nutraceuticals. It is made from high-barrier materials that prevent the penetration of water, oil, oxygen, gas, and light. The packaging can also be disposed off in composting bins for industrial composting, which contributes to TricorBraun’s sustainability goals.

The scope of research for sustainable technologies is vast, and scientists around the globe have been exploring the research possibilities. Such efforts are not only material-centric but also involve new technologies, designs, manufacturing practices, etc. for incorporating sustainability in the packaging. Indian research institutes and scientists are also part of such studies and routinely present innovative solutions to the F&B industry in India.

A team of scientists at the Institute of Advanced Study in Science and Technology (IASST) in Guwahati has developed an environmentally friendly, non-toxic, biodegradable polymer using guar gum and chitosan, both of which are polysaccharides extracted from guar beans and shells of crab and shrimps. Polysaccharide is a biopolymer with high potential for use in the synthesis of packaging material. However, drawbacks related to high water-solubility and permeability have impacted their popularity in the past.  Researchers have now developed a cross linked film that does not dissolve in water even after 240 hours. 

Another research group from the same institute developed a biodegradable, biopolymer nanocomposite that can detect relative humidity and can find application as smart packaging materials, especially for the food industry. In this, two biopolymers, Guar and Alginate were blended with carbon dots (nanomaterial) to make a nanocomposite film that was successfully used to detect relative humidity. 

Apart from IASST, researchers at the National Institute of Technology (NIT) Andhra Pradesh developed nanotechnology-based food packaging materials that offer a greater advantage over conventional and non-biodegradable packing materials by enhancing the functional properties of foods such as bio-availability, taste, and texture. The team emphasised the role of nanoparticles to provide mechanical stability to packing material. It showed how nano-sensors can be developed to detect pathogens, contamination, pesticides, and allergens and to enhance the antimicrobial properties of packing material to prevent food spoilage and contamination. 

Recyclable is a new sustainable 

For years, converting a high percentage of post-consumer recycled (PCR) content into film and having it meet food contact certification standards has been thought to be unachievable – particularly while maintaining quality and cost. Many packaging firms around the globe have been working with their partners to control sourcing, material sortation, and blending within their PCR material, to achieve a higher quality product fit for food contact within all their products. Here are a few such companies:

Australia-based Grounded Packaging, an end-to-end packaging supplier launched RE: MONO, a new recyclable, flexible packaging solution made of 83 per cent recycled materials. The new product contains the highest volume of PCR content currently available in the world for food contact pouches and other flexible packaging formats. This film laminate is made from disposed plastic sourced from recycling streams such as milk bottles and plastic bags. Grounded’s RE: MONO offers an alternative to reduce their environmental footprint by 57 per cent compared to virgin plastic packaging. RE: MONO is a mono-material, recyclable #4 (Low-density Polyethylene) soft and flexible material that can be recycled into the same thing at end-of-life.

“RE: MONO is an alternative to plastic that is an indispensable packaging material for most food producers and retailers,” said Benjamin Grant, co-founder of Grounded Packaging. “The packaging we’re launching has been deemed unattainable by other flexible packaging manufacturers, and we look forward to bringing to market more sustainable products like RE: MONO that are helping consumers and brands join the fight against the climate crisis.”

Sweden-headquartered firms Lidl Sweden, a grocery retailer, and Trioworld, a sustainable polyethylene film solutions provider for agriculture, launched the first PCR plastic film, approved for frozen food packaging. This solution is powered by an innovative 5-layer concept that has met all the required tests and simulations as required by the European Regulations for Food Contact Material. The packaging is made of 30 per cent recycled PCR and is 100 per cent recyclable.

“Trioworld’s multi-layer Loop offers Lidl a packaging solution that is not only fully recyclable but made from 30 per cent post-consumer recycled material and reduces its carbon footprint. Trioworld has a target to increase the percentage of recycled plastics in their products to 50 per cent by 2030 and is now continuing to develop thinner multi-layer Loop film for more food application areas.”, says Evert Paardekooper, President Consumer Packaging Division, Trioworld.

SABIC, a Singapore-headquartered global leader in the chemical industry, and Scientex, a manufacturer in flexible plastic packaging have developed the world’s first polypropylene (PP) flexible food packaging using PCR ocean-bound plastic (OBP). The material is being used in a premium brand of noodles packaging sold in Malaysia. OBP is abandoned plastic waste found in areas up to 50 km inland from waterways that may eventually be washed into the ocean by rainfall, rivers, or tides. The OBP used in the project is recovered and converted to pyrolysis oil in an advanced recycling process. This successful initiative demonstrates the feasibility of tackling the plastic waste issue through dedicated value chain collaborations and sets a milestone in shaping a circular plastics economy in Malaysia and across South East Asia.

Paper-based packaging is burgeoning

Paper packaging is amongst the most eco-friendly and economic forms of packaging. The global push for recyclability in the paper packaging market will create enormous opportunities for food companies globally. It is also observed that recycled paper packaging offers a distinct cost advantage for the production of corrugated boxes and cartons and other paper packaging solutions. Here are a few firms innovating in the paper packaging space:

Switzerland-headquartered Amcor, a global leader in developing and producing responsible packaging solutions has introduced a high-barrier, recyclable paper-based packaging- LifeSpan Performance Paper for snacks and confectionery in Europe. The new high-barrier, grease-resistant, FSC-certified paper-based solution has over 80 per cent paper fibre content, as well as being PVDC-free and recyclable across most European countries. The company plans to expand LifeSpan Performance Paper into coffee and culinary sectors.

Tetra Pak, one of the leading food processing and packaging solutions companies, unveiled a paper-based and recyclable packaging- Tetra Stelo Aseptic for Minute Maid, a leading nutrition brand under The Coca-Cola Company’s portfolio in India. This is the first ever Tetra Stelo Aseptic package for The Coca-Cola Company in the world, and the first time the package is being launched by Tetra Pak in the Asia Pacific (APAC) region. 

“The Tetra Stelo Aseptic is paper-based, recyclable, Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified and offers the environmental advantages that are unique to Tetra Pak packages. The package meets the needs of not just the consumer looking for nutritional, safe food, but also one who is environmentally conscious” says Ashutosh Manohar, Managing Director, Tetra Pak, South Asia.

By launching innovative eco-friendly packaging for all its home delivery orders, Bengaluru-based omnichannel meat brand Nandu’s became India’s first meat-based startup to use sustainable packaging for its food. As part of its new green packaging, the primary packaging (which is in direct contact with hygienically processed meat) is made of non-plastic virgin food-grade material that is fully recyclable. Similarly, the secondary packaging (the outer box which contains the primary packaging) is made of a blend of recycled and virgin paper material that is fully recyclable, ensuring both sustainability and presentability. 

Commenting on this initiative, Narendra Pasuparthy, Chief Farmer, Founder and CEO, Nandu’s, said, “We have a strong commitment to the environment, which ensures that we make conscious efforts to reduce our carbon footprint. As far as our innovative packaging is concerned, after a lot of deliberation and researching materials, powered by the firm trust and loyalty of our consumers, we decided on a solution that is a win-win for us and the environment. While creating this innovation we took all measures to ensure that the product quality and safety are not compromised in any way. Nandu’s goal now is to make 100 per cent of our packaging plastic-free by 2023.”

Austria-based Mondi, a global leader in packaging and paper, has launched Hug&Hold, a recyclable, paper-based solution to replace plastic shrink wrap for PET beverage bottle bundle packs. Hug&Hold comprises two elements that provide secure and safe transportation as well as stacking of bundles of bottled drinks. The first element is a patent-pending sleeve made of 100 per cent kraft paper that wraps around the bottles to hold them securely. Made from Advantage SpringPack Plus, it offers high tensile strength and can withstand enough weight to strap and stabilise the bottles during transportation. The second element is a corrugated clip that holds the bottles around the neck. 

“The evolution of secondary transport packaging is just what the global drinks industry needs as it looks to the future. A sustainable, functional and fully automated alternative to plastic shrink wrap means that brand owners can safely switch to a recyclable paper-based packaging solution, without any risk to their product or logistics,” says Tarik Aniba, Sales & Marketing Director, Mondi Group

SIG India, an aseptic carton packaging solutions provider has launched a wide range of recyclable paper straws in India with a variety of dimensions, shapes, and utilities. As a potential solution to the massive environmental damage caused by plastic straws, and in line with the plastic ban in India, SIG’s paper straws offer the best biodegradable non-plastic alternative, focused on both functionality and sustainability. SIG’s paper straws are made using paper obtained from FSC-certified sources, similar to its forest-based cartons, which are also made using renewable paperboard. 

“In recent years, India’s plastic waste output has exploded, with the country producing as much as 34 lakh tonnes of plastic waste in 2019-20! A significant part of this waste is caused by plastic straws, which clog up drainage systems, pollute water bodies, and cause irreparable, and even fatal damage to aquatic life. In line with this, India has announced a ban on the manufacture, sale, and use of several SUP products, including plates, cups, straws, trays, and polystyrene, from July 1, 2022. This makes SIG’s paper straws a great alternative, with the added benefit of convenience for both brands and consumers, in line with our ongoing efforts to reduce our carbon footprint and environmental impact,” said Vandana Tandan, Country Manager, SIG India.

The correlation between increased awareness about the environment and consumer choices related to purchasing products is fairly  obvious. But there is a considerable research gap in developing better and economical sustainable packaging materials, as the safety requirements are much higher for the F&B industry. 

While discussing his study related to sustainable packaging materials in the Indian F&B industry, Dr Manoj Hudnurkar, Professor at Symbiosis Centre for Management and Human Resource Development, Pune said, “While exploring consumer behaviour towards sustainable packaging, this study fails to explore viable alternatives to the current packaging materials. We believe further research could be conducted to understand better the alternative economical packaging materials available in the market. A study could further be conducted to explore the different alternative materials, their cost, and their effect on the environment. Another interesting study, we believe, would be to understand customer behaviour towards change in packaging. Customers are often used to seeing their frequent purchases in a certain package or colour combination. It would be interesting to study their behaviour and purchase decisions when the said packaging is changed.”

A successful sustainability innovation will need to be at a neutral or affordable cost trade-off to gain scale. Equally, many application innovations seem to be difficult to scale up beyond the smaller initiatives currently in place. This is partly because they are often at an early stage in the research process and use costly materials. However, as FMCG companies and retailers discover the need to move from an arm’s length relationship with suppliers to more of a partnership and collaborative approach, new opportunities could emerge for packaging innovators— particularly for agile innovators that are able to quickly expand their innovation capabilities. 

Developing sustainable packaging is no longer new, but making it affordable and safe remains challenging. In 2023, we need more innovations in the market that are not only advanced but should be compliant with all the parameters for better acceptance and sustainability in consumer behaviour. 

Mansi Jamsudkar


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