Redefining Sustainable Manufacturing Practices

By Ashok Jaipuria June 05, 2023

World Environment Day 2023: The disposal and recyclability of plastic are of utmost importance today which requires a supportive environment from stakeholders across levels

Redefining Sustainable Manufacturing Practices
Packaging manufacturers have a unique opportunity to capitalise on this growing market by embracing sustainable manufacturing practices.

Amidst mounting environmental concerns, the urgent need to convert sustainable development from concept to reality resonates across the globe. Among the pivotal sectors tasked with driving this transformation, manufacturing holds immense potential. As we grapple with the pervasive issue of global warming, it becomes imperative for manufacturers to revolutionise their practices throughout the entire value chain, transcending mere production and extending to responsible disposal. In the ever-evolving landscape of carbon emissions, 2021 witnessed a remarkable surge of 6 per cent in global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions, totalling a staggering 36.3 billion tonnes. Among the notable contributors, India stands third on the emissions chart, unleashing a formidable 2.46 billion metric tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This substantial output represents a significant 6.8 per cent of the world's overall emissions. Astonishingly, when delving deeper into the sources of India's carbon footprint, the manufacturing sector takes centrestage, churning out a colossal 1.69 billion metric tonnes or a whopping 68.7 per cent. Such statistics highlight the weighty role played by India's manufacturing industry in the carbon equation. With India's developmental aspirations and fervent economic drive, it comes as no surprise that the manufacturing sector's higher contribution propels the nation's CO2 emissions to unprecedented levels.

Unravelling the Plastic Enigma: Uncovering the Disposal Conundrum

The disposal and recyclability of plastic are of utmost importance today which requires a supportive environment from stakeholders across levels. Astonishingly, only a meagre 10 per cent of the colossal 400 million tonnes of plastic produced annually worldwide undergo recycling. However, India distinguishes itself by recycling a remarkable 50 per cent of its plastic waste, showcasing its potential for embracing more sustainable practices. To tackle this pressing issue, it is imperative to embark on a sustainable journey with plastic, encompassing the entire value chain from procurement of raw materials to disposal of end products.

For a thriving and prosperous future, we must veer away from unsustainable approaches towards plastic disposal. Our focus should centre on forging a circular economy that breathes new life into plastic through recycling and innovative reuse. This entails reimagining the manufacturing process and introducing sustainable polymers with a reduced carbon footprint. Redefining sustainable manufacturing practices across the value chain involves the implementation of efficient manufacturing techniques, the design of products with reuse and recyclability in mind, and the adoption of comprehensive waste management strategies. These measures hold tremendous potential to significantly curtail the unsustainable disposal of plastic waste, ensuring its responsible and sustainable handling.

The successful implementation of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) programs globally faces several challenges. One major obstacle is the lack of uniformity in EPR policies across countries and regions, making it difficult for multinational companies to develop standardised approaches. Additionally, limited legal frameworks and weak enforcement mechanisms in some countries undermine the effectiveness of EPR, leading to non-compliance and inadequate waste management practices. Resistance from industries, who view EPR as an added financial burden, further slows down its adoption and expansion. Insufficient awareness and stakeholder engagement, complex global supply chains, inadequate funding mechanisms, and a lack of monitoring and evaluation systems further hinder the global success of EPR initiatives.

Achieving this vision requires a collective effort involving manufacturers, consumers, and policymakers. Together, we can redefine our relationship with plastic and create a conducive future for generations to come. In India, the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) policy has emerged as a noteworthy initiative. India's comprehensive approach to EPR encompasses the entire value chain, spanning waste collection, aggregation, recycling, and the mandatory generation of EPR certificates for plastic producers.

G20's Environment Climate Sustainability Working Group provided an invaluable opportunity for India to share its innovative value chain practices while also learning from the best practices initiated by other nations. The inclusion of India's EPR policy in these discussions reinforces the significance of addressing plastic waste within the broader context of sustainable manufacturing practices across the value chain. It underscores the crucial role of manufacturers in assuming responsibility for the entire life cycle of their products, including their proper disposal and recycling. 

Power of Eco-Friendly Sourcing and Circular Manufacturing

A recent report by IndustryWeek sheds light on the paradigm shift towards eco-friendly processes, materials, and technologies; as how companies increasingly acknowledge the crucial role of sustainable sourcing in achieving their business objectives. A resounding 81 per cent of respondents now consider sustainable sourcing as either extremely or very important to their organisations. Such findings underscore the rising recognition that sustainability significantly influences procurement priorities, as an overwhelming 80 per cent of participants affirm. Furthermore, 40 per cent of those surveyed anticipate sustainability requirements to reshape their sourcing strategies within the next 12 months, with an additional 26 per cent projecting its impact in the near future.

While sustainable sourcing sets the foundation, comprehensive waste management practices assume paramount importance. Manufacturers must prioritise recycling, repurposing, and waste reduction measures to ensure responsible disposal. Encouraging product take-back programs, nurturing partnerships with recycling facilities, and raising consumer awareness all contribute to the creation of a circular economy, where resources are reused, and waste generation is minimised. The integration of technology and data-driven solutions holds the key to propelling sustainable manufacturing to unprecedented heights. By implementing energy-efficient machinery, harnessing renewable energy sources, and embracing smart automation systems, manufacturers can substantially reduce energy consumption and curb greenhouse gas emissions. The early integration of technology empowers manufacturers to enhance operational efficiency while minimising their environmental impact.

Packaging for the Planet: Innovating Sustainable Manufacturing Practices

The role of packaging manufacturers in redefining sustainable manufacturing practices across the value chain is of utmost importance, especially considering the projected growth of the global sustainable packaging market. With an expected CAGR of 8.5 per cent from 2023 to 2031, packaging manufacturers have a significant opportunity to shape the future of sustainable packaging. A key aspect to consider in this endeavour is the Asia-Pacific region, which emerged as the dominant market for sustainable packaging in 2021, accounting for over two-fifths of the global market share. The rapid urbanisation in the Asia-Pacific region has contributed to the expansion of the sustainable packaging market, while the presence of major manufacturing enterprises, particularly in the healthcare, pharmaceutical, and cosmetic sectors, has further fuelled its growth.

In addition to market dynamics, the influence of sustainability on consumer choices cannot be overlooked, as revealed by a recent poll conducted by Capgemini on sustainability and transforming consumer behaviour. The poll findings underscore a significant shift in consumer preferences, with a staggering 79 per cent of consumers altering their purchase patterns driven by factors such as social responsibility, inclusion, and environmental impact. Furthermore, a growing number of consumers, totalling 53 per cent, and even 57 per cent among the age group of 18 to 24, are actively switching to lesser-known brands due to their commitment to being more environmentally friendly. This shift in consumer behaviour highlights the increasing awareness and significance of sustainability in purchasing decisions. It is worth noting that more than half of the customers surveyed, 52 per cent to be precise, reported having an emotional connection with sustainable companies or organisations. This emotional connection serves as a driving force for consumers to actively seek out brands and products that align with their environmental values, resulting in a rising demand for sustainable packaging and manufacturing practices.

The environmental impact of various materials, including paper and cotton, further emphasises the unique position of plastic. Research conducted by the Northern Ireland Assembly reveals that the production of paper bags requires significantly more energy compared to plastic bags. Additionally, the production process of paper bags contributes to the clearance of forests and generates a higher concentration of harmful compounds. Furthermore, a study by the Environment Agency highlights that cotton bags need to be reused a staggering 131 times to have a lower global warming potential compared to plastic bags for life. This sheds light on the importance of considering the entire lifecycle of a product when evaluating its environmental footprint.

When it comes to waste management, paper bags also present challenges. They have a greater mass in terms of solid waste and can weigh up to seven times more than plastic bags, making their processing and recycling more resource-intensive. This leads to a significant increase in greenhouse gas emissions during the recycling process. These findings underscore the complex nature of sustainability considerations and the need for a comprehensive understanding of the environmental impact of various materials.

Therefore, packaging manufacturers have a unique opportunity to capitalise on this growing market by embracing sustainable manufacturing practices and offering eco-friendly packaging solutions. In a world brimming with complex challenges, we hold the key to unlocking their solutions. It's time to embark on a transformative journey that transcends boundaries and ushers in a new era of innovation and sustainability. By fostering a culture of knowledge-sharing, embracing cutting-edge practices, and setting industry benchmarks, we can revolutionise the manufacturing landscape and magnify the impact of sustainability initiatives.

Former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan once emphasised the challenge of turning sustainable development into a tangible reality. Now is the time to seize the moment and shape a resilient future. By harnessing our collective strength, we can turn abstract ideas into tangible achievements, paving the way for a vibrant and sustainable tomorrow that resonates with the aspirations of generations to come.

(Ashok Jaipuria is chairman and MD, Cosmo First.)