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Revamping Our Strategy To Fight Plastic Pollution

By Ashutosh Manohar June 05, 2023

World Environment Day 2023: India's rapidly expanding population and high consumption rates directly contribute to the annual generation of packaging waste

Revamping Our Strategy To Fight Plastic Pollution
Governments, corporations, brands, and consumers must unite and work together to drive the development of sustainable solutions, promote recycling, and establish a closed-loop system that minimises plastic waste.
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Plastic pollution is a universally recognised issue that requires urgent attention and collective action. Each year, millions of tonnes of plastic waste end up in our waterways. In India alone, a staggering 3.4 million tonnes of plastic waste is generated annually, with only a portion being recycled, according to a study by the Marico Innovation Foundation. The remaining waste may contaminate the soil, groundwater, or oceans, leading to severe consequences for marine life. This issue is further compounded by our heavy reliance on plastic, particularly in sectors like food and beverage (F&B) where packaging plays a significant role.
 
Intent vs Action

India's rapidly expanding population and high consumption rates directly contribute to the annual generation of packaging waste. However, the more concerning aspect is the gap between intent and action. A study by Velocity MR, a market research and analysis company, found that despite 90 per cent of people in key metropolises like Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, and Bengaluru being aware of the harmful effects of plastic bags, they continue to use them due to convenience and affordability. Similarly, although there are debates on reducing litter and increasing waste segregation, only a fraction of households practice waste segregation at the source. Bridging this gap between intent and action is a fundamental challenge that needs to be addressed through better consumer education and affordable, scalable, sustainable solutions.

Maximising the use of renewable materials

Driven by factors such as growing environmental awareness and consumer demand for more environmentally friendly products, the F&B industry has committed itself to pursuing sustainable solutions throughout its value chain in recent years. Multinational companies like Nestlé, Mars, Coca-Cola , and Danone have pledged to achieve 100 per cent recyclable packaging and to capture as much waste as they produce. Our company is working hard to maximise the use of renewable content in their packaging materials. The polymer and aluminium in our cartons are crucial for keeping food safe over long periods without refrigeration. However, the company aspires to create the world's most sustainable food packaging. 

With increasing global demand for safe, nutritious food and the scarcity of raw materials, the need for more sustainable packaging solutions that use fewer scarce resources has become urgent. The package of the future should be fully recyclable and have a low environmental impact. We have already tested a fibre-based barrier to replace aluminium and have made significant progress. 

The introduction of tethered caps is another significant milestone in addressing potential litter issues. Additionally, there are plant-based alternatives, such as polymers derived from sugarcane and other organic sources. When coupled with carton packaging made primarily of responsibly sourced paperboard, these sustainable solutions surpass the environmental performance of other common packaging materials.The ultimate goal of these developments is to strive for a future packaging that is renewable, recyclable, and carbon-neutral, without compromising food safety and quality.

Choosing the right material 

While selecting renewable and recyclable materials is important, it is crucial to integrate recyclability into the design process and consider other aspects of packaging sustainability.

To achieve a sustainable future, it is necessary to focus on designing packaging that is easy to recycle. This involves simplifying the material structure and ensuring that different components can be easily recycled. Additionally, adopting minimalist, smart, and optimised packaging solutions can help reduce material usage, minimise waste, and improve distribution efficiency.

In addition to material choices and design considerations, it is important for forward-thinking companies to leverage their purchasing power and networks to promote sustainable forest management and responsible utilisation of renewable resources like paperboard. This ensures that forests are responsibly replenished, supporting a continuous cycle of sustainability.

However, addressing plastic pollution requires collective action. Governments, corporations, brands, and consumers must unite and work together to drive the development of sustainable solutions, promote recycling, and establish a closed-loop system that minimises plastic waste. Individual commitment, along with collective efforts, is necessary to tackle this complex issue. By coming together, we can make progress and foster innovation that not only protects our food but also contributes to the overall health of our planet.

(Ashutosh Manohar is managing director, Tetra Pak South Asia.)

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